By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
In 1996, the now iconic classic Trainspotting took the world by storm and kick started the careers of director Danny Boyle and actors Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremmer, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Kelly McDonald. The film had a huge impact on the world, not only because of its excellent writing, direction and acting, but also because of its amazing soundtrack. The movie is an exciting and inventive example of pulp storytelling and impressive independent filmmaking that is nearly impossible to top. Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh who went on to make a sequel titled Porno and a prequel titled Skagboys, it was only a matter of time before another movie got made.
Twenty-one years later, screenwriter John Hodge (who also adapted the first film), director Danny Boyle and a good majority of the main cast from the first movie have returned to revisit these fascinating and beloved characters from Edinburgh, Scotland. Very loosely based on the novel Porno and inspired by the events of the first film, T2 Trainspotting serves as a twenty-year reunion and retrospective movie that mainly focuses on the events of the first film and brings audiences up to speed on where the characters are now that they are in their forties and fifties. This is good in that this reunion makes for an entertaining and exciting experience, but bad in that there really is not much more to the story beyond that.
Taking place twenty years after former heroin addict Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) betrays his “mates” by stealing the money they all acquired from a big drug deal, Renton has been living in Amsterdam and decides to finally return home after unexpectedly having another near-death experience. Mark feels that it is time to make amends with his best friends Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), and Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremmer), and his parents (James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas). “Rent Boy” discovers that Spud still struggles with heroin addiction and is on the verge of losing his wife Gail (Shirley Henderson) and son Fergus (Kyle Fitzpatrick). Simon, now addicted to cocaine, runs his family’s old, rundown, barely-in-business, pub, while pimping out his younger Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) for an ongoing blackmailing scam. Though his friends are initially angry to see Mark, they eventually warm up to him with Simon constantly trying to persuade him to get involved in his latest business venture–a brothel. Meanwhile, the perpetually angry Frances Begbie escapes prison and returns to Edinburgh to his wife and son. When Begbie discovers that Mark is back in town, his only goal is to seek violent revenge for his betrayal.
As a massive fan of the first film, it is with great joy that I was able to revisit this world and its characters. The movie does make for a fun twenty-year reunion and has the entertainment value of such, but I had seriously hoped that the filmmakers would have taking these characters into bold and exciting new territories. I did temper my expectations, as I more or less knew that there is no way they could top the thrills, the adrenaline rush, and superbly written and executed humor of the first installment. Hodge and Boyle do offer some awesome sequences and scenarios in which only these characters can find themselves. Boyle offers a film that is obviously more polished and less grimey, but this works well within the context of the story. The film lacks the grit and the brazeness of the first movie, but in a way it feels somewhat appropriate given that the filmmakers and characters are older, slower, and are supposed to be more mature.
And even though these characters lack some of that reckless abandon of their youth, it really is fascinating to see how age, maturity, and the harsh truth of the real world have taken its toll on them. All of the returning actors slip comfortably in their roles, as if they have been living in them all of this time. Ewan McGregor is a seminal leading man and protagonist in Mark Renton with Jonny Lee Miller competently returning as Renton’s best friend and crime partner Sick Boy. Ewen Bremmer may look older, but he still can become the big-hearted and somewhat dimwitted Spud. Robert Carlyle may also be older, but he still brings the rage that boils within Frances Begbie. Newcomer Anjela Nedyalkova absolutely shines as the lovely and streetwise Veronika, while other returning actors such as Kelly McDonald, Shirley Henderson, and more will definitely please fans of the first film.
Regardless of this installment’s shortcomings, this film will certainly please these fans as a nostalgic piece. Audiences who have not seen the first film will find some entertainment value in this movie, but are much better off seeing the initial movie first. Though the movie doesn’t achieve the creative and entertainment highs of Trainspotting 1, this movie offers more of a contact high remaining from its predecessor and adds a little juice of its own. I definitely would love to see both movies back to back, as they offer a more complete picture of this captivating world and its characters.