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T2 Trainspotting
★★☆☆☆
First run Theater cinema

T2 reunites the cast and creative team behind the Scottish film Trainspotting (1996), the runaway hit that chronicled the exploits of a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh during a decade of economic and social despondency. Based on the celebrated cult novel by Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting was the second feature from the team of producer Andrew Macdonald, writer John Hodge, and director Danny Boyle. It solidified all three of their careers, as well as those of its stars Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, and Kelly Macdonald.  Despite its status as a small European indie, it exploded onto thousands of screens and became one of the most lionized international films of the 1990s, winning raves at Cannes, scoring BAFTA and Oscar nominations, and becoming the fourth-highest grossing British picture in history up to that point.  Now, twenty years later, McGregor’s Mark Renton—who made off with the cash from the group’s London drug deal at the end of the first movie—returns to Edinburgh to reconnect with the mates he betrayed, reassess his life, and get back into trouble. 

T2 is yet another example of the growing trend to make sequels to films and TV shows from more than twenty years ago. Thought this one feels like it has a reason to exist beyond cashing in on nostalgia. Indeed the movie simultaneously embraces and confronts the notion of nostalgia as its primary subtext. Where the original picture is about young men avoiding the consequences of their actions, the follow up concerns middle-aged men having to deal with the consequences of their actions—a less exciting but more multifaceted theme. And whereas the first film had an unsatisfying open-ended conclusion, this one builds to a more resolved denouement.  

I was not a big fan of the original Trainspotting. I still consider it an exercise in style over storytelling that plays more like the director’s flashy calling card than a deep examination of youth, drug culture, or the specific region at a key moment in time. Boyle went on to build a major career with many successful films everyone seems to love except me: the commercial and critical hit zombie thriller 28 Days Later (2002), the multi-Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and the acclaimed 127 Hours (2010), to name just a few. What makes most of Boyle’s pictures interesting are the ideas located behind their flashy, flimsy surfaces. But these themes, metaphors and commentaries rarely get nuanced consideration, they’re most often telegraphed to the audience in the most simplistic form via overelaborate camera and editing techniques.  T2 is every bit as indulgent as the rest of Boyle’s oeuvre. He employs an even larger bag of tricks to conceal the fact that Hodge’s script—despite being a largely original screenplay rather than an adaptation of Welch’s follow-up novel Porno (2002)—again plays like a collection of episodic events that lacks a cohesive narrative structure on which to explore its intriguing subtext.

Like its predecessor, T2 delights in language and the specific slang, cadence, and poetry of Scottish dialects.  It features one stand-out sequence set in a bar populated with anti-Catholic nationalists. Unfortunately, this hilarious set-piece and its brilliant pay-off rely heavily on voiceover from Ewan McGregor—the type of first-person narration that held the original Trainspotting together but that only pops up awkwardly this one time in the sequel. McGregor’s iconic "choose life" monologue, which opens the first picture, gets an excellent callback here, updated for contemporary mores. This time the speech is organically integrated into the narrative rather than presented in a direct address to the audience.  It gets delivered during a conversation between McGregor’s Renton and this film’s new major character, Veronika Kovach. The Bulgarian immigrant Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) is one of the key additions that make this sequel relevant and involving. Her presence both provides a new thematic commentary on the changing face of Scotland and adds dramatic tension between Renton and Miller’s character Simon Williamson.

What works best in T2 is its exploration of nostalgia as a drug. The very nature of this sequel helps underscore its message: revisiting our youth can bring tremendous pleasure but can also prevent us from facing our present-day realities and moving forward with life. No matter how many cinematic bells and whistles Boyle avails himself of, he cannot completely overshadow this compelling subtext. It unites almost every scene and makes T2 a worthy enough follow up to the predecessor beloved by so many audiences.

Twitter Capsule:
Worthy follow up to lionized predecessor suffers from same style-over-substance approach.

Directed by Danny Boyle
Produced by Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Andrew Macdonald, and Bernard Bellew

Screenplay by John Hodge
Based on the novels Porno and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

With: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald, James Cosmo, Shirley Henderson, Steven Robertson, and Irvine Welsh

Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Editing: Jon Harris

Runtime: 117 min
Release Date: 31 March 2017
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color