Twenty-one years ago, a little-known director by the name of Danny Boyle (who went on to make Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) worked on a small project in Scotland named Trainspotting with actor Ewan McGregor.
It became a cult classic around the world and was one of the defining films of the late 20th century. Its realistic depiction of heroin addiction frightened yet enthralled audiences, forging audiences’ emotional attachments to the gang of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie.
Now, in 2017, Boyle, McGregor and the whole gang are back in the highly-anticipated sequel. T2 Trainspotting had its wide release this week in the United States. Mark Renton (McGregor) has returned to Edinburgh, sober from heroin for 20 years, and meets up with his former pals. Chaos and confusion ensues, much like the first film.
That’s the first and major problem with T2 — its similarity to the original storyline. Many of the characters perform similar actions and are getting into the same shenanigans, but this time with a lot more ridiculousness because they’re in their 40s.
There is little character development even throughout the 20-year window. An effort was made to improve on Renton’s character, but he quickly returns to his old mannerisms and characteristics by the end of the first act.
It is odd that the film is a relapse of the original. The tactic is usually saved for sequels to big blockbusters, but Trainspotting was never huge in the box office. It felt like this was the rare sequel that was made for actual artistic purpose, given that Irvine Welsh, the author of the book Trainspotting, wrote a sequel novel this movie is loosely based.
But, the film plays off a nostalgia the audience has for the first film by using its original footage at certain parts, striving to communicate themes that were missed in the script. The film touches on ideas of age and regret, but the story is not captivating enough to truly uphold them. The famous “choose life” mantra of the original was spelled out during a conversation between Renton and Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), a new character, in an egregious offense of telling but not showing.
The saving grace that could have made the film a success is how the director captured of the style and energy of the original. Trainspotting had a relatively innovative design with its rapid-fire editing, jump cuts and freeze frames, which brought the film to life.
At the beginning of T2, Boyle seemingly returns to that style, but then he develops a more realistic feel, including those cut-ins to the previous film. The decreased heroin use and slower film pace weakens the style. This lack of energy is disappointing, given Boyle’s known talent behind the camera.
The film is not truly terrible — there is still an amount of craftsmanship behind it with great Edinburgh locations and decent cinematography: It is also nice to see these characters that many have an emotional connection to after all this time. The only actor that truly feels like they are doing something beyond the original structure of their characters is Spud (Ewen Bremner), who displays a sense of anguish while also trying to do something real with his life. Also, the nostalgia appeal may work for some who saw the original in theatres and have a sentimentality to it.
But in the end, T2 Trainspotting is a disappointing creative imitation of the original that breaks no new ground for the characters. It does not have nearly as gripping a story or style as the original.