It has literally taken me an entire week to sort through my feelings about T2 Trainspotting. Like every self-respecting Britpop and indie flick-loving Gen Xer in 1996 America, I was obsessed with Trainspotting when Danny Boyle’s film adaptation made its stateside debut in theatres. I was twenty years old, disaffected, grieving the recent loss of my father and looking for any available escape from my reality. My first viewing of the film was in a packed Royal Oak arthouse auditorium; my last in theatres, an empty house for a weekday afternoon show in a mall theatre in the final days of its first run (cutting class to drive to any out-of-the-way theatre that still had a showing or two became part of my grieving process). Sure, it had an instant-classic soundtrack and sharp cinematography and all of the things, but looking back, I think the allure of watching other miserable, wayward young people stumble through life, finding escape in one of its deadliest forms, was both cathartic and cautionary for me at that time. As the years passed and I grew more removed from that lost twenty-year-old, I was able to enjoy the more revelatory aspects of the film, to better appreciate it as an embodiment of the mid-90s zeitgeist.
Fast forward twenty-one years. When I heard about the coming of T2 Trainspotting, I was ecstatic, as if old, dear friends I hadn’t seen in twenty years were paying a visit. And I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. But unfortunately, that’s exactly what Boyle & the gang was banking on with this sequel: the undying love of T1’s ardent cult following. They knew we would show up 100% ready and willing to love this sequel based on everything we know and love of its predecessor. So they pretty much phoned it in.
That’s right, folks: T2 Trainspotting, no bueno.
The sequel, which thankfully brings back much of the original cast, tells the story of the homecoming of T1 antihero Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), and his reunion with former friends Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), who secretly plots revenge against his old friend for making off with the proceeds of their partnership in a heroin deal at the end of the previous film; and Danny “Spud” Murphy (the always-endearing Ewen Bremner), still struggling with addiction, now the father of a teenage son with his longtime girlfriend Gail (Shirley Henderson). Mutual fairweather friend and perpetual hothead Francis Begbie (played once again to a T by the great Robert Carlyle) resurfaces after some years in prison to find his old adversary back in town, and vows to help Sick Boy carry out his plan of retribution. Sick Boy’s sometime girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), is thrown into the mix when Renton develops an interest in her.
That’s the plot in a nutshell, but the film does an awful lot of meandering away from the point; seemingly distracted by its own legend, it spends more time revisiting the events of T1 than keeping its focus on the present. It suffers from an acute case of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 Syndrome in that any time a character says anything remotely resembling “Remember that one time…” the audience is instantly spoon-fed a scene from the first film and echoes of the opening strains of “Born Slippy.” If I’ve seen a film as many fucking times as I’ve seen Trainspotting, I can close my eyes and see the scenes in my mind. I can recite the dialogue by heart. (Same with Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2.) And there are others like me (who love Trainspotting that much; I don’t know if anyone else worships Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2); this film has a massive following, so who are these flashbacks for? The overly self-referential bent is self-defeating; for a film intended to bring us up to speed on where these characters have been for the past twenty years, far too much time is spent reminiscing. As a result, the sole new character suffers from tremendous underdevelopment, while the familiar faces ride on what we knew of them previously; all involved are awash in the film’s overwhelming wave of nostalgia. Even from a visual standpoint T2 seems stuck in the shadows of its precursor, deploying its trademark psychedelic sequences, shot-by-shot recreations of its infamous chase scene and revisiting its subtitles sight gag amongst its many contrived attempts to recreate that original energy.
I promise I’m not that critic that hates everything. I went into this film fully expecting to love it, and I’m genuinely bummed I didn’t. While it’s true that I may be somewhat biased in my affection for the original, it’s not the type of situation where I feel nothing would live up; the entire sequel just seems in vain, a narcissistic, insincere rehash. I’ve since decided that there can only be one T2 in my life, and I’m sure this obvious-ass joke has been cracked a million times since this film was released, but I’ll say it here anyway:
Hasta la vista, Begbie.