T2: Trainspotting kicks off with Renton (Ewan McGregor) returning to Edinburgh twenty years after running off with the money from the drug deal that he and his friends pulled off in London. He’s made a life for himself in Amsterdam, but it’s all starting to fall apart. Simon AKA Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) has been working as a blackmailer with his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has been in prison, and is eager to get out and get back to his criminal activities. Meanwhile, Spud (Ewen Bremner) had a stint going straight, but has since fallen back into old habits.The film mainly revolves around the reunion of Renton and Simon. Simon hasn’t forgiven Renton for the betrayal twenty years ago, and he decides to rope him into a new scheme he’s putting together in the hopes of later getting him back. The film then plays out pretty much like how the first one did: it’s a series of low-level capers that don’t quite work out for the characters. The characters may have aged, but they’re essentially the same lowlifes running through the streets of Edinburgh two decades ago. They fall into old rhythms, addicted to the feeling of being young and indestructable, even though they’re nothing of the sort anymore.
This is the interesting trick of T2. It is a film that revels in nostalgia while talking about how destructive it is. The film is essentially a series of callbacks to the first movie. At points, it has the characters seeing ghosts of their previous exploits, their memories phantoms running through the streets of their youth. And in this embrace of what’s gone on before, the movie studies the toxic relationship that the characters have with their younger selves, a romance with a life that involved drugs and violence and all manner of awfulness. Nostalgia is their new addiction, and it is every bit as harmful as heroin ever was.And so the film is having its cake and eating it, too. And it’s not exactly a bad thing. There is some bracing new insight in here, even as the film plays out the same old beats. There is new context to the same old sequences, twenty years of aging providing a clear portrait of what is been gained and what is being lost in going back. The film, however, fails to feel like a product of the now. The novel from which the story is loosely adapted came out in 2002, and not a lot of efforts seems to have been exerted to update the story to match the zeitgeist. Even if the film wanted to live in the past, it likely would have been more effective if it showed a clearer picture of what today is like.Director Danny Boyle goes back to his old tricks as well, the film littered with unusual compositions and visual overlays and jarring cutaways and the occasional freeze frame. Everything moves energetically, and it still fits the story they’re telling pretty well. The original cast steps into the shoes of the old characters without much trouble. If anything, these actors have improved, and are able to make these characters feel more alive. Ewan McGregor is just terrific as Renton, the actor bringing the same hungry intensity while balancing it with the sense that this character has already experienced something better.T2: Trainspotting doesn’t feel nearly as vital as the first film did. That film was a snapshot of a generation, a bracing statement of existence in a time and place that couldn’t be ignored. This sequel lacks the same sense of being present, of being there when it’s happening. But there is still merit to what the film brings to cinemas. It still occasionally manages to produce sequences that feel brash and irreverent. At times, it feels like it’s playing a joke on itself, the filmmakers all too aware of the irony of the film’s stance of nostalgia. And in that space, the film manages to find something interesting.
T2: TRAINSPOTTING IS SHOWING ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 1, 2017, EXCLUSIVELY IN AYALA CINEMAS.