Mark Reviews Movies

T2: Trainspotting


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Scot Greenan, Pauline Turner, Kelly Macdonald, Irvine Welsh, James Cosmo, Steven Robertson, Shirley Henderson

MPAA Rating: R (for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence)

Running Time: 1:57

Release Date: 3/17/17 (limited); 3/24/17 (wider); 3/31/17 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 23, 2017

By pure luck, the gang from Trainspotting has survived over the course of the 20 years since we last saw them. T2: Trainspotting finds Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in prison, where he somehow has stayed alive, despite his need to show himself to be the toughest man in any room, while being surrounded by at least a few guys who possess the same mindset and are stronger than him. Spud (Ewen Bremner) admits that he spent the unexpected £4,000 he received at the end of the first film on heroin. Now he's struggling with unemployment and an unfavorable custody ruling regarding his son from a broken marriage—all of his problems stemming from the fact that heroin users don't need to concern themselves with daylight saving time.

On the bright side, Simon (Johnny Lee Miller) doesn't go by "Sick Boy" anymore, and he has quit heroin. He is, though, still pretty sick, given that his primary source of income comes from setting up Edinburgh's elite in compromising situations and then blackmailing them with the video evidence. His current drug of choice is cocaine, which he snorts whenever an opportunity arises.

After escaping his "friends," Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) has put his life together in Amsterdam. He has a steady, well-paying job and is married. His current addiction is running—not from the law anymore but as a hobby. In a cruel twist of fate, it's Renton who has the first death-scare in the movie—taking a tumble off a treadmill after having a minor cardiac incident that, as it turns out, is akin to a mild heart attack.

The lesson, of course, is that none of this matters. It's all a matter of fate or luck. The decent people who want to change their lives—Renton and Spud—end up with problems. The indecent people—Simon and Begbie—just roll along. The point of Trainspotting was that the addiction was bad enough. The enablers made it worse. To battle the first, Renton had to escape the influence of the latter.

The sequel solidifies that notion. Renton is fine enough, in spite of problems with his health, marriage, and job. He has gotten past worse things. It's reuniting with Spud and especially Simon that sets him down the old, familiar path of self-destruction.

The central problem with the movie is that its recognition of that truth is tied to another thematic drive: nostalgia. John Hodge's screenplay (based on two of Irvine Welsh's novels about the characters—the original Trainspotting and its follow-up Porno) wants to have it both ways: reminding us that the misery of these characters is elevated by their "so-called mates," while tapping into the sense of community that made those relationships so appealing. The movie wants to recapture the spirit of the original. In order to do so, since there's so much baggage out in the open, that means the progression of the sequel's story is essentially the reverse of its predecessor. Here, Renton begins with the knowledge of compatriots' destructive influence and moves toward blissful ignorance.

There may be truth in this regression, too, but Hodge and director Danny Boyle (both returning for the sequel) never find it. The good feeling of reuniting with old friends is too powerful here. They really like these characters, which is a benefit to the movie's process of reintroducing them 20 years down the line. It becomes troubling when the movie tries to tie those good feelings of companionship to what is essentially its protagonist's fall.

The plot follows another get-rich-quick scheme, as Simon wants to open a "sauna" for his partner-in-crime/not-quite-girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). The returned Renton wants to help, and Simon sees it as an opportunity to get sweet revenge on the man who betrayed him 20 years prior in the gang's last deal (Nobody has learned a thing, apparently). Begbie has escaped from prison and wants to teach his college-bound son (Scott Greenan) how to steal his way through life. Spud is tangentially involved, although he has decided to dedicate himself to writing about the gang's adventures as a means of appeasing his addictive personality.

A sequel may be dramatically unnecessary (and about 15 years too late), but for a while here, it's easy to appreciate how Hodge's screenplay updates us on the lives of these characters (The actors wear these roles as comfortably as an old glove). There's some wisdom here in the way that, while the settings and circumstances in which they find themselves have changed, these characters haven't changed much at all. Renton's buddies are still behaving in the same ways they always did. They simply have different obstacles in front of them and opportunities to squander. The characters react to those challenges just as we'd expect.

The movie possesses a certain level of fatalism or outright nihilism, summed up in Renton's scathing, updated rendition of his "Choose life" speech (It's laid on a little thickly, to be honest). By the third act, which transforms the various conflicts into a series of chases and a climax that would be better suited to a horror movie, it's apparent there is no escape in T2: Trainspotting. These characters are doomed, repeating the same mistakes and falling into familiar traps. This may be honest, but the movie's jovial tone about it certainly isn't.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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