Overview: Twenty years after abandoning his friends, Mark (Ewan McGregor) returns home to Edinburgh to make amends. Meanwhile, Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) plot their revenge on him for the money he stole. TriStar Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 117 minutes.
Choose Your Future: The question of how to make a great sequel, especially over two decades later, is one that is often asked but rarely answered satisfactorily. With legacy sequels, you have a wide range of uses of nostalgia. There’s Harrison Ford’s, “Chewie, we’re home,” that made people cry simply watching a trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and on the other end of the spectrum there’s Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, looking out of place in his own franchise. T2 Trainspotting faces the cultural significance of the original film straight on, with the characters as obsessed with their past adventures as its fans are. After twenty years, the cast look significantly older, and the contrast between their immature return to old ways and their middle-aged appearance is deliberately highlighted. Sick Boy and Renton refer to each other by Simon and Mark now, and when Mark talks about his career there’s an understanding that he did “choose life,” for better or worse.
Choose Nostalgia: There’s a smaller extended cast this time around, with more time given to the most memorable surviving characters like Spud, Simon and Begbie. The biggest strength of T2 Trainspotting is that it has the focus to explore how these characters function outside of the group dynamic, and I’d be happy to see a whole film about Spud after this. The revenge plotline is a loose premise, as we flit from comedic and dramatic scenes that capitalise on the strong performances from actors who have clearly being dying to inhabit these characters once again. The thread that connects them all is this central quartet’s nostalgic pondering of their childhood and adventures as reckless junkies. The best scenes are the ones where the new and the old work hand-in-hand, as Mark and Simon breathlessly rant about the glory days of George Best as Simon’s girlfriend Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova) rolls her eyes and mocks their macho posturing. Nedyalkova is a real presence, charming and funny, while making sure the audience understands that yes, we all know these men are past their prime and their need to repeat history is ridiculous rather than heroic.
Choose Life: Unfortunately, Nedyalkova’s wonderful character follows a predictable route, and as the film goes on she becomes increasingly peripheral regardless of how important her actions are. Similarly, the study of male relationships doesn’t cover any new ground, and fails to live up to the hilarious and touching send-up of masculinity it begins as. Everything in the third act of T2 Trainspotting that failed to pay off the numerous emotional and narrative arcs that are set up so well seem like they could be saved with the same ingenuity and clarity of vision that the rest of the film proves the filmmakers have in spades. Instead, the flashbacks come in more frequently, the subtext becomes text, and I stopped feeling melancholic when I caught a glimpse of a shot from the original, and started looking forward to when I could leave and go watch Trainspotting again. The only one who has a character arc that feels like it ends satisfactorily is Begbie, whose the last person you’d expect any development from. Much like the aforementioned The Force Awakens, these references make the film accessible to new viewers and tip its hat to those who hold its predecessor close to their hearts. It’s a shame then that this element slowly becomes a crutch to a narrative that runs out of ideas too soon, especially since the director and cast are bringing their best material. There’s plenty to love, and a plethora of funny scenes that make it worth the watch, tainted slightly by an anti-climactic ending.
Overall: T2 Trainspotting romanticises its past much like its fans do, longing for that era before the explosion of social media and the expansion of technology. There are no major missteps taken, but the surprise of T2 Trainspotting being actually pretty great is undercut by its inability to reach the heights of its ambitions.
Featured Image: TriStar Pictures