Movie Review: T2 Trainspotting

The characters from the original are back after 20 years

T2 Trainspotting
Directed by Danny Boyle
With Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald, Anjela Nedyalkova

Bringing the original cast of something back after many years is often just a way for the participants to cash in. And sometimes it can spoil some perfect memories. Luckily this is not what happens in T2 Trainspotting, which brings back the main characters of Trainspotting some 20 years after the original. The update on the characters adds something to the original, and has its own messages about modern society. It isn't a one-of-kind film that will define its decade, but it can hold its head reasonably high.

Just like the characters, the sequel shows a bit more maturity. The story is a bit more focused, less episodic. There are fewer freeze frames and psychedelic touches. The effects that are there help to push the story rather than distract from it. The all-driving force of heroin is also much more muted though drugs still figure heavily into the plot.

Many of the same locations in Edinburgh — and Glasgow standing in — also turn up again, but time has not been kind to them. Abandoned buildings and rubble are a reminder of the economic situation.

Novelist Irvine Welsh served as executive producer and is credited for the original characters. He actually wrote two continuations of the novel, but little of those books are in the sequel film. The novels and the films have parted to go their separate ways.

All of the main characters are back. Rent Boy (Ewan McGregor) returns after 20 years of living abroad. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is still running scams. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a junkie. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) starts out safely tucked away in prison where he definitely belongs. Diane Coulston (Kelly Macdonald), the precocious teen, has also grown up and makes a brief appearance. New to the group is Veronika Kovach (Anjela Nedyalkova), a Bulgarian prostitute who helps Sick Boy in his various dodgy deals.

The film also touches briefly on contemporary topics. Spud loses his social benefits due to being late at the government office. It is similar to a scene in I, Daniel Blake, but done for comic effect. But soon the four protagonists get caught up in their own world again, and social causes take a back seat.

If you haven't seen the original in a while, it might be a good idea to find a copy. The characters who were such tight friends through their ups and downs on the street did not part on good terms in the final scene. The group has not forgotten the incident.

The film does not present and overly optimistic picture of the characters, which is good. It would have been easy to romanticize them and exaggerate their potential successes and failures. But people only change so much. The group has not been very successful, although they still are quite creative in their ways of avoiding actual work. If one of them had started a successful business, it wouldn't have been as credible is it is to see them see scrounging.

The same mix of dark humor and drama is still there. Rent Boy and Sick Boy have a particularly funny scene robbing a pub full of political extremists. There is also a tense scene where they run afoul of mobsters and get taken for a ride.

There are quite a few flashbacks to the original film, perhaps too many. Sure, the characters would want to do some reminiscing but it seems like a bit of forced nostalgia. One flashback helps to explain the title, though.

Music again plays a big role in the film, with a few more recent hits complemented by old classics by the Clash, Blondie and Run-D.M.C. The big question is whether or not there will be some more Iggy Pop, the music that drove the original.

After the first film was so successful, there was talk of a doing a second film right away. But director Danny Boyle wanted to wait for the characters to grow up a bit. Then the director and star Ewan McGregor had a falling out over the casting of another film, The Beach, and weren't on good terms for a while. Twenty years gave everyone enough time to get over everything.

But there shouldn't be a rush into a third chapter. Giving the character some time seems to be a good strategy.

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