Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova
Director: Danny Boyle
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Rating: R for Pointy Things – Both Body Parts and Devices You Stick Into Your Body
Release Date: March 17, 2017 (Limited)
1996’s Trainspotting features one of the most iconic opening shots in film history, as Ewan McGregor’s feet fall from the sky and then pound the Edinburgh pavement to the inimitable strains of “Lust for Life.” The kickoff to 20-years-later sequel T2 Trainspotting directly calls back to its predecessor, but in a sly way that ensures this is no empty exercise in nostalgia. And really, how could it have ever been that? Getting back together with your junkie criminal mates is not exactly the stuff of teary-eyed reunions. T2 falls short of reaching the landmark status of the original (a nearly impossible task), but its themes (“choose life,” choose whatever the hell you could possibly choose) and hallucinogenic style remain intact.
It has been several years since I saw Trainspotting, and over the course of T2, it becomes abundantly clear how many plot specifics I have forgotten. Luckily this is the type of sequel that fills you in on everything, with enough dreamy flair to prevent any flashbacks feeling like spoon-feeding. Renton (McGregor) has been living in the Netherlands with his Dutch wife; he still runs, but for exercise, not to escape the law. Spud (Ewen Bremner) got clean for a little while, but is now on the brink of suicide. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), in between “running” a family pub, is pulling a sleazy blackmail extortion scheme with the help of his young Bulgarian “girlfriend” Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Franco (Robert Carlyle) is serving a 25-year jail sentence and scheming to get out. And Diane (Kelly Macdonald) is now a lawyer, dropping in for a cameo consultation.
Nobody is thrilled over Renton’s return, considering he stole everyone else’s shares of the drug deal at the end of the first film. But they mostly reconcile enough to commit to Sick Boy’s plan to open a “spa” (i.e., brothel). Franco, fulfilling the wild card role, is off on his own teaching his son how to sell stolen goods; he is much less forgiving when his and Renton’s paths cross.
Whether or not they succeed (or what success even is in this situation) is beside the point. T2 is about taking stock of one’s life, and how unsettling such midlife reflections are with a druggie past (and present). Director Danny Boyle throws out all his tricks to make this chapter simultaneously unsettling, beautiful, and hypnotic. Camera angles are slightly askew, slow motion and freeze frames disrupt the rhythm, and even Snapchat filters are used to great effect. Adding to the surrealism (for non-Scottish audiences) is the impenetrability of the thick accents. There is a bit of fun with subtitles during one Franco scene, but otherwise we are left to our own devices to figure out what the hell everyone is saying. For the most part, I do not even bother with such translation; I would advise you to do the same.
In one unforgettably riveting scene, McGregor resurrects the classic “Choose Life” monologue for a new generation. The rejection (but also pseudo-acceptance) of capitalism inherent in these speeches is what fuels this series. There is plenty left in the tank to continually define the Trainspotting thesis. In just five minutes, McGregor demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt why he would ever want to revisit such an iconic role.
T2 Trainspotting is Recommended If You Like: Sequels That Seem Unnecessary But Turn Out to be Quite Fulfilling
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Needles Shared Between Friends