Film review: T2 Trainspotting

by Russell Baillie / 17 March, 2017

Jonny Lee Miller and Ewan McGregor in T2 Trainspotting.

The boys survived into mid-life but they’re not settling down.

It might be something of a worry that in this long-gestating sequel to the 1996 hit movie of ­Scottish ­junkie-dom, the first needle ­brandished is a knitting one. Have the old heroin-fuelled gang taken up arts and crafts in rehab?

Well, no. But T2 Trainspotting is a more sedate affair than its predecessor, which was arguably the best sex, drugs and rock’n’roll (but mostly drugs) movie of its era and a landmark in British cinema.

As we learn in the opening scene, Ewan McGregor’s Renton has swapped his old shoplift-sprint through Edinburgh streets for a gymnasium treadmill. His lust for life, it seems, has faded to something middle-aged and sensible. Perhaps.

As for the knitting needle, that’s just what the resident psycho, Robert ­Carlyle’s Begbie, employs to get himself ­hospitalised so he can escape prison, having gone down for murder.

The other main characters turning up for this surprisingly spirited and ­satisfying Class of ’96 reunion, helmed again in hyperactive style by Danny Boyle, are Jonny Lee Miller’s Sickboy/Simon and Ewen Bremner’s Spud.

The former is now a small-time pimp attempting to blackmail his way into the big time; the latter is still a junkie and despondent about his addiction and his estrangement from his family.

Spud was a gawky comedic sidekick in the original, but here, Bremner’s terrific performance becomes the sad soul of the movie. A dab hand at drafting unrealised suicide notes, Spud, it seems, has become a writer. In one particularly meta moment of many, he reads excerpts from Irvine Welsh’s original Trainspotting novel as his own scrappy memoirs.

Boyle and scriptwriter John Hodge have lifted some events from Welsh’s own sequel, Porno. But T2 strives for something more than just being a belated encore to the original.

It’s its own film, about damaged male friendship and living in the past. But somehow, it makes nostalgia for the original movie more stimulant than sedative.

It’s a sequel that rewards lasting ­affection for T1 with shots that pay homage to it and a soundtrack that delivers warped echoes of songs from the original. Even a revision of Renton’s “Choose Life” monologue with contemporary references works, despite feeling like it’s been shoe-horned into a scene.

The film is also haphazardly plotted and happily contrived when it comes to getting Renton – who took off with a bag of loot that was meant to be shared with his mates at the end of T1 – back to Edinburgh for reasons that aren’t quite explained. No sooner have he and Simon supposedly buried their ­differences than they are hatching dubious schemes involving building a brothel with the involvement of Veronika (Anjela ­Nedyalkova), Simon’s supposed girlfriend, who takes a shine to Renton.

Meanwhile, the remarkably evasive Begbie is trying to make up for lost time with his teenage son, a storyline that eventually has the faint whiff of soap about it.

Still, Carlyle is one fine scenery-chewing nasty bastard. He’s delightfully ­irredeemable. One of the many pleasures in this for T1 fans will be knowing that Begbie has stuck to his knitting. ••••

IN CINEMAS NOW

This article was first published in the March 4, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

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