The sweat wis lashing oafy this boy. Was T2 Trainspotting a terrible idea, destined to disappoint and lessen the memory of seeing the original on its day of release in 1996, emerging blinking from a cinema thinking someone had made a film for me and mine? As soon as the credits roll, with Mark Renton pounding the virtual pavement of an Amsterdam running machine, interspersed with clips of Johan Cruyff showing that anything Archie Gemmill could do he could do better, it’s clear we are in safe hands.
This is a film which is an unashamed nostalgic experience for audience and cast alike, but it’s not wallowing – and it’s certainly not viewing that past through rose-tinted glasses. This is through a glass darkly, with old scores looking to be settled and many demons to be faced down. It’s rare for a film to hold a mirror up to its audience in this manner and ask them to take a good, hard look at themselves; who they are, who they were, and what they have done. Regrets? Too few to mention? If only.
There are plenty of nods to the first film in both style and substance. This could have been overplayed, and threatens to be at times (freeze-frames and flashbacks fall just on the right-side of overkill). But mostly director Danny Boyle gets it spot on. Renton’s impassioned reworking of the “Choose Life” monologue, Begbie reciting his own best lines, Mickey Forrester’s appearance as a well-to-do gangster, Renton returning to his shrine of a bedroom, a partly begrudging pilgrimage in Tommy’s memory, Kelly MacDonald’s Diane’s poignant warning that a girl is “too young for you, Mark”. These are all note perfect, and are a reminder of what a good filmmaker Boyle is. There’s even a nod to Boyle, Ewan McGregor and screenwriter John Hodge’s first collaboration, Shallow Grave.
Hodge may be the real star of T2 Trainspotting. He has taken elements of Irvine Welsh’s sequel to the novel Trainspotting, Porno, but improved on them in every way. He also returns to the original source material, most tellingly in the scene where we meet Begbie’s father, and from which Trainspotting gets its name. To fans of the novel, it was probably the biggest cut from the original film (that and the character of ‘Second Prize), but it makes more sense in this one, making us aware of where Begbie has come from, and where he could be heading.
Like the first film, T2 Trainspotting is about friendship, and those ties that bind – often tighter than ever as we grow old. It shows how something as apparently arbitrary as who you are made to sit beside on the first day of primary school can have lifelong repercussions, both good and bad. Mark Renton’s reappearance in Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud’s life has a dramatic effect on all of them, particularly the latter, and it is Spud’s story which carries the heart and soul of the film, with Ewan Bremner never better.
In fact, all of the cast are on peak form. If the audience have been waiting with anticipation for this film to be made, you get the feeling this applies doubly to the main actors. Perhaps the greatest directorial masterstroke Boyle makes was to wait for real-time to have passed – time which is etched on the cast’s faces. Of course Ewan McGregor is a Hollywood star, but a 45-year-old one (and one born in Perth), and he is perfect as someone who has seen a little of what choosing life did for him, perhaps even making him happy for a while, but which has driven him back to what he knows best, and who he knows best. Mark Renton is McGregor’s perfect role, a mix of cocky self-confidence and well concealed vulnerability. Here he adds a world-weariness and last-chance desperation that is all too believable.
You can see why Jonny Lee Miller makes for a much more realistic Sherlock than the clear-eyed and flawless skinned Cumberbatch (in CBS drama Elementary, which I highly recommend) as he looks like a man who is on good-terms with a just about under control drug habit. As Sick Boy, he is pulled between a desire for revenge and an undeniable love for his oldest friend which he can’t understand. His head says he wants to destroy Renton, his heart says something else. “The power of love, is a curious thing”, as a denim-clad poet once sang, and he was right.
Robert Carlyle reminds us that when he is at his best he is just about the best there is. Francis “Frank” “Franco” “The Beggar Boy” Begbie has put on some prison beef since the last time we met. No exercise yard regime for him, but he is as psychotic and menacing as ever, although this time with just a dash of humanity. Begbie is a true cinema monster, and Carlyle understands that the best of those are never simply one-dimensional.
But Ewan Bremner is who you’ll remember. Physically and psychologically bringing Spud to life, all the youthful tics and mannerisms are there, but buried beneath the hardships which life has thrown at him. At times he is almost bent double with the weight of the world. Renton’s reappearance isn’t just a trip into the past for him, it offers a future which he thought was gone. This is what friendship can mean, and is perhaps the central theme from the film. They say you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. Sometimes you can’t choose your friends either. For better and for worse, no-one understands you like they do. Of course, you could choose life instead – but look where that gets you.
Here’s the trailer – as if you haven’t seen it already
And, from the soundtrack, Young Fathers whose music is the perfect accompaniment to your existential crisis…
Here’s the audio version of this review: