Using an iconic soundtrack to frame fast, furious and occasionally unsettling vignettes, Danny Boyle gave visceral, epoch-defining existence to Irvine Welsh’s miscellany of tales of the anti-heroes and zeroes of Edinburgh’s rotten, seedy underbelly. Trainspotting’s sights and sounds made it the film of the Britpop era, making a star of Ewan McGregor and bringing Underworld’s thunderous stadium techno to a whole new audience.
And therein lies the dilemma. Just how do you follow a film that carried so much cultural weight? Sequels can be a tricky customer, very often falling into the categories of sublime or ridiculous with little in-between (compare The Godfather Part II to Staying Alive, for example).
Boyle negotiates this predicament masterfully, with enough tact to bridge the 20-year gap, harking back whilst keeping the present set of circumstances fresh and exciting. It goes without saying that familiarity with the first film is pretty much essential here, with references – some explicit, some knowing – to the original peppered throughout the sequel. The main characters, although 20 years older, are essentially the same: Renton, charming, intelligent, yet nihilistic; the lovable, vulnerable Spud; Begbie, ever menacing and unhinged; and Sick Boy, the manipulative conman.
The throwbacks are handled with the utmost care and fit neatly into the overall narrative of T2. Nostalgia can, in the wrong hands, be so sweet as to be sickening, with but this film’s primary angle is nostalgia, and little of it misty-eyed. It is about revisiting old haunts, settling old scores, laying old ghosts to rest.
What is also refreshing is Spud’s more prominent role in the story, and Ewan Bremner’s facial contortions brilliantly capture the character’s strenuous attempts to make sense of everything that happens to, or around him. He was very much a source of light relief in Trainspotting, and provides plenty this time around. There is also a good deal of other amusing scenarios, as our protagonists reunite and find themselves in the type of shenanigans that befit their daring, reckless take on life.
While not as disturbing as the first film, T2 has enough emotional gravitas of its own, as we see how things have changed in two decades, and indeed, how they’ve stayed the same. It would be impossible for this film to attain the type of cultural significance of its predecessor but then it doesn’t set out to and is all the better for it. If anything, it pays reverent homage, chronicling how the characters have tried to adapt to life as fortysomethings, all the while haunted by their wasteful, destructive 20s.