T2 Trainspotting. The film that fans have been waiting for just over 20 years. After watching this movie however, fans now might wish they had waited a little longer.
Photo by Jaap Buitendijk – © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Picking up 20 years after the original Trainspotting, Mark Renton (Ewan McGreggor) makes his first trip home to Edinburgh since betraying his friends and taking off with the majority of the £16,000 from their heroin deal. He reconnects with his old friends Spud (Ewan Bremner) and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller). Meanwhile, Franco Begbie (Robert Carlyle), fresh out of prison, looks to get revenge on the man who cheated him all those years ago.
Over the years there has been so much talk about a Trainspotting sequel. It had been on the cards for a long time but they always said that they wanted to let the actors age naturally and wait for the right story. Well, the actors definitely aged. As for the story, well where do I begin?
Let’s start with that there is no real story. This movie is too preoccupied with reflecting on past glories to have any real story. At the start of the story, I liked the direction they were going in. The characters were nowhere in their lives, so their story was going nowhere. Now I’m perfectly fine with a movie that starts slow. As a matter a fact, a lot of the greatest movies ever created start very slow and gradually build and build into something great. The problem with T2 Trainspotting is that it never builds. It never gets out of first gear. It just trundles along without ever picking up the pace.
The energy is lacking, there’s no forward momentum, even the soundtrack is extremely lacklustre (White Man in Hammersmith Palais aside) and it’s kind of surprising how quickly you’ll probably find yourself losing interest in the characters you once loved. Sometimes it’s better to leave things well enough alone, or you know, wait until you have a better story to tell. Having said that, the movie does have some highlights and frankly, Danny Boyle always manages to bring something that you are unlikely to see in most mainstream movies.
Boyle does a very commendable job trying to inject this movie with some spirit, but the stillborn story cannot be kickstarted into life despite his best efforts. The one good thing that can be said about this movie, is that it does not take anything away from the greatest of the original, which definitely does happen to some sequels. The problem is that even though it doesn’t detract from the original, it doesn’t add anything to it either.
Sequels can be a tricky mistress, especially after a lot of time has elapsed between them. You need to stay true to the themes and spirit of the original but you also need to progress the characters and move in a different direction to the original. Whilst T2 definitely does stay true to the themes and the spirit of the original, it mostly fails to progress the characters and take the story in a new direction.
There were so many times when I felt like the story was finally going to kick into gear. Sadly, it never did. I had real hope in the months building up to the release of this film that the story would be great because I naively believed that to get everybody involved in the original would only get back together if they had found the right story. Apparently, that was not a requirement. Clearly everybody involved is passionate about the project so I’m not accusing them of getting the band back together just for a paycheck but it feels like they started from a very weak base and although they tried their best to build something good on it, it’s an uphill battle when the base (the story) is weak.
So the story isn’t the best, well surely the brilliant, personable, electrifying, engaged characters we all loved from the first Trainspotting will carry us through it! Sadly even this isn’t the case. Renton is boring in this movie, the only time he seems to have any life is during his updated “Choose Life” speech, which sadly doesn’t quite stick the landing the same way it did in 1996. Sick Boy has some interesting things going on but none of it really seems to connect and Spud, well, the entirety of his story seems very contrived.
The only one of the main cast who shines anywhere close to how they did in the original is Robert Carlyle as Begbie. Fresh off of playing Rumplestiltskin in the ABC fairytale series Once Upon A Time, (the only reason I mention that is because I’ve never seen the show and can’t for the life of me imagine Carlyle being in a family friendly Disney show) Carlyle slots back into the role of Begbie with so much easy and swagger one suspects he might just have been secretly revisiting the role behind closed doors over the years to stay in practice. His performance is electric, every second he is on screen the movie comes alive.
In a movie that is far too hung up in the past, Begbie’s relationship with his son Franco Junior was a particular highlight of the movie. The difference between these two generations, between father and son, was too brilliant. Whilst Begbie assumes his son will want to follow in his footsteps, to turn to a life of crime due to him growing up in the same area devoid of any real prospects like his father, Franco Jr. instead wants to don a suit and study a diploma in Hotel Management. This story was by far the most effective way T2 Trainspotting showed us how times had changed between the two Trainspotting movies.
That’s not to say it isn’t effective is showing us how times have changed in other ways. Whether it’s with widescreen televisions and silly Instagram filters, or society’s ever growing obsession with fitness.
There were so many aspects of this movie that made me want to like it. A scene involving Renton and Sick Boy in a patriotic Orangeman establishment is pure genius. There is one of the greatest references/parodies of Raging Bull ever seen in entertainment history. Personally, as both a massive James Bond and The Clash fan, any movie that jumps straight from a classic Connery-era John Barry composed James Bond song to one of the best Clash songs should be a home run. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
As I’ve stated, Begbie’s story, in particular, his story with his son was most compelling. The one aspect I really loved in this movie was the role of Kelly McDonald’s character Diane. She did not feel shoehorned it at all and best of all she did not outstay her welcome. Perfectly handled.
To be honest, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the first movie. Yes, obviously it is a very good movie, perhaps even a great movie but I’ve never really thought it stood out as the clear best in the pantheon of Danny Boyle films. So my negativity here is not because my expectations were too high. Even for those that have not been waiting for this movie all these years and still, this will still probably feel like a letdown. I think Danny Boyle would be best in future to experiment and pursue various different genres of movies as he has done through his career instead of returning to his former glories. Go back to pushing the envelope instead of fawning over the past. Especially after Steve Jobs which one could argue is right up there with Boyle’s best and by far one of the most underrated films of recent years, T2 Trainspotting is a disappointing step back.
Whilst by no means a bad movie, T2 Trainspotting is a massive step down from the original and if judged on its own merits is not very interesting. Nostalgia, a few entertaining highlights along the way, and a healthy heap of social commentary about the modern world make this sequel somewhat entertaining in parts. This movie is unlikely to leave you with a lust for life, but a lust for a much more engaging movie.