Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) are back in T2: Trainspotting – a pretty stupid title, not least because there’s already quite a famous film called T2. They should have called it Trainspottier.
20 years after Renton stole £16,000 from his fellow heroin addicts while Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ blared in background, he returns to Edinburgh for no real reason other than for a sequel to take place. It seems a particularly ill-advised move considering he only knows about three people there, and they all want to kill him – particularly Begby, who’s not exactly known for his forgiving qualities. Fortunately, he’s in prison. Unfortunately, he escapes just as Renton returns home. So immediately, any sense of reality has gone down the toilet. And where the original had substance(s), this feels generally more lightweight.
Taken for what it is, Trainspotting 2 (I refuse to call it T2) is a highly entertaining nostalgia-driven caper. The cast are on good form, particularly Bremner as Spud – though he’s involved in a slightly odd final revelation. Carlyle seems to be channelling a character from Limmy’s Show and Begby has become much too cartoony to be believable, which was perhaps always a risk. The real star is Danny Boyle, whose kinetic, colourful direction races between heartbreak and euphoria with incomparable skill. He makes beautiful use of Edinburgh, trippy inverted camerawork and of course music – from Blondie and The Clash to Queen and Run–D.M.C.
It never reaches the highs of 1996’s zeitgeist-capturing original, and the nostalgic fan service is overdone – especially Kelly Macdonald’s single irrelevant scene and a glaringly out-of-place updated version of the famous “Choose Life” monologue. I always thought of the original speech as a sort of poem, not something the characters actually said to each other. Here Renton explains that they often used it in conversation, before launching into his own variation off the top of his head. But at its best Tramspotting (Edinburgh has trams now) is a funny, exciting sequel, its unapologetic urgency reminiscent of Shameless. After it had peaked.