How to follow up the best British film of the nineties? One of the more unlikely sequels ( a well documented falling out between director and star seemed to put an end to any reunion in the mid-noughties ) T2 follows Trainspotting twenty years after its prequel ended. Taking inspiration from Irvine Welsh’s ‘Porno’ (2002), this sequel focuses more on the lows of aging than heroin withdrawal.
Directed by: Danny Boyle
With: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Kelly MacDonald and Shirley Henderson.
Robert Duvall bellowed that The Godfather Part III was solely made for the money; “they just weren’t showing me any of it!”, Hence his refusal to partake in the picture, a conspicuous fate that befell a litany of petty sequels lacking one of its original stars. Amazingly, Trainspotting’s sequel brings all four of its original stars, and while this sequel can’t quite compete with the anarchic brilliance of its older sibling, it brims with sufficient charm to make it a watchable film by itself.
Wisely choosing to age the characters as its audience has done, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge bring the bald scalps and ragged wrinkles to the camera’s attention. T2 plays like an old familiar wine, sufficient flavor to sip of sweet nostalgia.It dances the tightrope too many rock stars have fallen off. With all the will in the world, few of us can actively enjoy Pete Townshend air milling, and Mick Jagger was gyrating as octogenarians. But Trainspotting 2 hits its viewers well. It’s not trying to be uber-cool; the exact opposite in fact.
Robert Carlyle has declared the film “a wake-up call,” refreshingly, his Francis Begbie remains oblivious to the change of time. Ewan McGregor gives his best performance in years, he isn’t reprising Renton, he is Renton, grayer and sadder, but with the same level of the calibre, he brought in 1996. Ewen Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller are significantly less sinouey than they were in the nineties, ravaged by age, saddened by time, bringing nuance only time bestows.
But its Carlyle who’s the real standout performance here. Embittered with twenty years of rage, Begbie is as maniacal as he was a younger man, no more sensible, no less abrasive, but significantly more aggressive.”How could I have served[the army], I’ve been here for twenty ****ing years?” he barks to his lawyer, lamenting his prison time. This visible rage is used to its best in the film’s centerpiece as Begbie tries to murder Renton in a car park; heroin may no longer be in the picture, but both get their highs in other ways!
The audiences highs come in the forms of Easter egg. Renton’s ‘choose life’ monolog is lovingly updated to incorporate zero hour contracts and Instagram, Kelly McDonald makes a welcome return (very much an adult this time), and Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat has rarely been so beautifully filmed. While some of the Easter Eggs are more than slightly forced ( Renton is asked if he’s here for the nostalgia- smooth ), there is an undeniable joie de vivre attached to the film, modern as it is nostalgic, especially as all four hug in a mirror by mirror replica of the original’s embrace after a drug deal.
T2′ s biggest accomplishment is how dignified it is, not easy when its characters involve projectile vomit. Where Trainspotting centered entirely around Renton, T2 is as much about Sick Boy and Spud, their disappointments, struggles, and anger. “You’re an addict, just be addicted to something else” Renton advises Spud. It’s a conversation filled with the greatest of pathos and regret, pathetically thrown by life’s questionable turns, achieving what Al Pacino and Francis Ford Coppola got horribly wrong in their third Michael Corleone picture.
All promising, but there a couple too many niggles that bereave of the instant classic it ought to be. There are many narrative leaps ( Begbie escapes from prison the exact moment Renton returns to Edinburgh for the first time since the nineties- really? ). The soundtrack’s lacking (uber-cool nineties replaced by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and other eighties “hits”), the female leads are given little to do ( Shirley Henderson is particularly guilty in this regard) and Irvine Welsh’s insipid ‘Porno’ casts too large a shadow in some scenes ( Boyle himself wasn’t a fan of the book, and one wonders if these influences are added for the Welsh fanboys solely ). But it’s so indebted to age, rock, rebellion, societal collapse and fun, it’s hard not to be impressed by the heart T2 offers.
So, while T2 ain’t The Godfather II, at least it’s far from The Godfather III!