Review: T2 Trainspotting

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80%
80
Judgement Day

A warped and worthy continuation of the Trainspotting saga.

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For anyone who was worrying, rest easy. Danny Boyle’s followup to his legendary second feature Trainspotting continues what is rapidly becoming a grand tradition of sequels which were in the development for decades, live up to fan’s expectations and have the title ‘T2’. However this isn’t a case of taking a potato masher to a beloved cult hit à la James Cameron’s approach to continuing The Terminator franchise and T2 Trainspotting is the sort of film a sequel to Trainspotting should be.

McGregor, Bremner, Carlyle and Miller all return to their roles with gusto. Rather than going through the motions, it feels as if they’ve played these parts all their life, developing them to suit the passage of time. In fact there’s a strong sense that everyone feels as if they’re slipping on a pair of well-worn slippers. Boyle has lost none of his visual expertise, and the use of editing and cinematography is still as twisted and irreverent as ever. He’s picked up a few tricks along the way too. The use of bright primaries, Super 8 footage and occasional flecks of computer-generated imagery all work to the film’s advantage, creating something fresh and eye-popping in an age when filmmakers have largely forgotten how to be clever with their cameras.

It’s not a completely flawless affair. Time spent in Hollywood, the London Olympics and the swathes of British imitators that followed in the original’s wake have quite clearly taken their toll on Boyle’s ego and style. This is no longer the scrappy little underdog who took the world by storm with his gritty, low-key little film about the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh. In fact much like the city, this work is far more streamlined and polished. This isn’t altogether a bad thing, mind. Nothing is unappealing, and nothing is actively broken. It’s just that it all feels very…self-congratulatory.

The script is still solid, generating more than a few laughs along the way and retaining the original’s angry and satirical edge, but at the same time it’s not above rubbing the original’s success and memorable lines in your face (as if Boyle and writer John Hodge are going “Look at us, we made one of the most groundbreaking British films of all time, what have you been doing with your life!?”). While the majority of knowing nods to the original and updated visual motifs work to the film’s advantage, there’s a misplaced air of grandiose to the whole package. The ending in particular feels like a Hollywood caper which culminates in a completely over the top showdown between Renton and Begbie involving a sledgehammer and a toilet bowl.

Still, my complaints are mere bird droppings atop a perfectly sturdy park bench. As wrong as some of the decisions were, it never feels like a far-cry from its predecessor. There’s just the right balance of old and new to make this feel like a true sequel rather than a filmmaker wallowing in a carbon-copy rehash of a popular work. In fact in an ingenious display of editing, Boyle actually uses scenes from the original film to show both the evolution character relationships and how little times have changed. In any other filmmaker’s hands this would be an eye-rolling exercise in filmic masturbation, but in Boyle’s hands the result is effective and deeply nostalgic.

Besides, Edinburgh has changed, and therefore the formula must too. Gone are the skag dens and slums (with only a passing whisper of them in the form of Sick Boy’s pub and Spud’s apartment), replaced by chain stores and multi-storey car parks. This sweeping development is captured rather effectively in an opening scene which sees Renton arriving at the airport and taking a tram through the now glossy CBD. It doesn’t tug at the heartstrings (then again, it’s not supposed to), but it’s certainly an effective contrast between the two films and subtly demonstrates that Renton and co. no longer belong in this world.

Age has taken its toll on the main characters and the ways in which Boyle twists the iconic stylings of the original to suit this change are masterful. The moments of introspection among the drug binges and hair-brained schemes are those of a group of men realising that they’ve wasted their lives away for the sake of a fleeting high, and the soundtrack offers up subtle distortions on the Brit-pop stylings of the first film to compound these feelings of melancholy. It’s a deft portrayal of middle-age that manages to hit all the right notes of sadness without ever losing sight of the energy and dark comedy that drives the story.

While some parts lack the subversive, turpitudinous je ne sais quoi that made T1 oh so very special, the final product is well worth the wait. The themes and messages the film carries on from the first still feel relevant after all these years, and Boyle has lost none of his skill or directorial sensibilities. So yeah, if you’re looking for a good way to spend your evening, you could do far, far worse than choosing T2 Trainspotting.

T2 Trainspotting (2017), directed by Danny Boyle, is distributed by Sony Pictures. Certificate 18.

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Filmmaker, philosopher, critic (on occasion). Also writes for MUBI Notebook. It's not the side-effects of the cocaine. I'm thinking that it must be love.

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