Synopsis – After 20 years abroad, Mark Renton returns to Scotland and reunites with his old friends Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie.
My Take – Sequels have become such a common thing now days, no matter if the characters or the film deserve a follow up or not, the studios behind the film are always looking for a way to cash in the likeability and the success of the original film. To make matters worse (or good in some cases), now days’ studios are heading back to cash in on films released two decades ago with mixed results (Dumb and Dumber To and Jurassic World are polar examples). Hence, I wasn’t surprised when a follow up to director Danny Boyle‘s 1996 influential British film was announced, a film which originally had a great ending. Having seen the original film, an excellent black comedy that focused on the Edinburgh drug culture & had a fantastic soundtrack along with excellent performances from its main stars, just a few years ago, I remember being quite impressed by it, despite me never going nuts for drug-related films as I was more interested by the style of film-making used and the development of the well-rounded characters, plus how can anyone forget some of the most distressing scenes the film contained? However, with the Danny Boyle back in the director’s chair, with John Hodge returning to script, and the complete cast reuniting more than 20-years later, can this much anticipated follow up generate the same frenetic pace and enjoyable discomfort of the first? Apparently yes! Yup, this is a very entertaining and well-made movie. This film is all you could hope a sequel can be, independent and respectful to its predecessor while standing on its own merits as a good film. It’s just amazing that even after 21 years, how everything managed to come together. Director Danny Boyle, who has never made a sequel to any of his films, has made sure that this film maintains the aesthetics of the original film while being funny, sad and mature above all. The tone is definitely being aimed at the people who grew up with the original and plays cleverly with nostalgia without depending on it and stands on its own as an entertaining and inventive film in order to reel in some new audience as well.
Based on characters created by Irvine Welsh in his novel Trainspotting and its follow-up Porno, the story follows Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor), now clean and completely drug free, who after twenty years of the events of the last film, returns to his home town Edinburgh. Having lived in Amsterdam all these years, Renton now facing a failed marriage, still continues to harbor the guilt for betraying his close friend and fellow trainspotter Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), who is getting by running a failed bar and as black mailer who records sexual deviance of influential men with the help of Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), his Bulgarian girlfriend/business partner. Meanwhile Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner), has led an equally directionless and spiritless existence, despite benefiting from Renton’s £4,000 payoff (an event of the 1st film), continues a life of addiction, failure and abject fatherhood that leaves him contemplating suicide until Renton intervenes. Once the fisticuffs and long repressed violence at Renton’s betrayal are worked out of Simon’s system, the pair hatch a scheme to embezzle enough money to open a brothel with the assistance of a £100,000 small business grant. Meanwhile, psychotic loose wheel Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who learns his request for early release from prison is once again denied, hatches a personally injurious scheme to break out of prison (having killed a man who reminded him of turncoat Renton in the interim period) and seek fatherly bonding with a son whose maturation has occurred in his absence. However, when news gets to him that the friend who robbed him of thousands is back in town, events escalate to a tense conclusion wherein sledgehammers are buried and the ties of old friendships are stretched to breaking point. Honestly, I did not expect this film to be as good as it was! Director Boyle & company have done a great job by staying on ground and creating a fresh and deserving tale out of a cult classic. Despite the decade’s gap, the characters still remain likable thanks to a sharp and hilarious writing. When doing a sequel to such a landmark movie, the question of course is: why? What compelling reason is there to revisit these deeply flawed yet somehow endearing characters? The honest answer seems to be that there is no true compelling reason, other than to simply see what these characters have become. It takes quite a while for the movie to find a driving story line (revenge of some sort against Mark for having taken off with the £16,000 at the end of the first movie), but more importantly to reflect on the fact that 20 years have gone by, just like that. When Mark first reconnects with best bud Simon, he sneers “Hello Mark, so whatcha been up to for 20 years?”, ha! Mark is now 46, not 26. The movie flashes back to the original on several occasions, leading someone to comment to Mark “You’re a tourist in your own youth”. The movie is of course set in and around Edinburgh and feels like an ode to the city (when Mark first returns, he cannot believe all the changes to the city since he was there 20 years ago). It also interesting to see how times have changed and the surveillance state made its introduction: Mobiles that can be tracked, and shots from observation cameras are used in the movie. The “Choose Life” narration is repeated in a modern, adapted version and this is a movie where the soundtrack finally gets proper attention. From the opening song, Shotgun Mouthwash by High Contrast to the excellent Prodigy remix of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, very effectively used in the end shot.
Beware: the characters speak in full-blown Scottish accents, and I must admit that on multiple occasions, entire sentences passed by over my head as I couldn’t make out head or tails. Like the original, the movie’s photography is pure eye-candy, and there are a tons of great song placements (most prominently: Blondie’s “Dreaming” and Queen’s “Radio Gaga”), and it won’t surprise you when I tell you that it all culminates with, of course, Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” (in a new mix, and playing over the end credits). Overall this sequel is better plotted and more accessible than the original, but maintains the first film’s /rebellious spirit. Despite the thick Scottish accents, Boyle gives us subtitles for the first couple scenes while our ears tune in. Also like in the first film, there are drugs, profane insults, scenes to make you gag and nudity (male and female), just less of each of those things. What this film has more of is anxiety – regrets about the past, difficulty adjusting to the present and deep concerns about the future. And the shared history of these four men is lurking in the background for all of them, as we see in the sets and scenery, flashback scenes (some from the first movie and some newly filmed), and especially in Mark’s angry “choose life” monologue that he launches at Veronika. Sure, the boys are a bit older – but to say they are much wiser, would be stretching things farther than these off-kilter blokes already do. The reunions happen separately and slowly throughout the film, and each carries its own awkwardness. These guys are all like the guys we know, yet nobody’s quite the same. It’s not until near the end when all four share a scene. However, getting to that point involves everything we could hope for: flashbacks, quirky camera angles, flash-cut edits, familiar music blasting, and exaggerated sound effects, in other words, all of the style from the original (only with a higher budget). Carlyle turns into a pretty nice antagonist the longer the film goes and Spud is probably the most likable of the bunch. This movie is a good mix of crime drama and comedy, as there are always moments that will have you laugh out loud, like the ways in which one character gets out of jail, or the entire scene in a bar where the two protagonists just want to steal a few credit cards, but are told to perform on stage. This was maybe the most hilarious part of the film. What is good about the movie is the very imaginative, fast and quirky visual storytelling, often noticeable in small scenes: a lift getting on screen numbers for example, a trademark of Danny Boyle, that is further enhanced by the outstanding work of longtime collaborator and DoP Anthony Dod Mantle. With all that, and film making as creative as in the original, the original fans will likely be pleased & these sequel may even create a few more. The only factor I didn’t really like here was the less emphasis on the usage of heroin, which according to me was one of the better parts of the previous film, and felt like it was its “character” on its own. Don’t get me wrong, there still is an overabundant of drugs in the film, but the emphasis didn’t lay in that category. What I did like was that they re-used some scenes from the first film and recreated shots. They also referenced the first film a lot (the dirty toilet, the gun with which they shoot in the park in the first film), which I like and is something fun for the ones who’ve seen the first film to look for. But by doing this they really search for support in the nostalgia factor, something the movie might support quite a bit on. Performances are as solid as you’d expect! The original cast comprising of Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle are still excellent and a delight to watch, with James Cosmo and Kelly Macdonald appearing in two scenes each, respectively, as Mark’s dad and Diane. Newcomer Anjela Nedyalkova‘s enigmatic performance as Veronika is one of the highlights of the film. On the whole, ‘T2 Trainspotting’ is an excellent sequel that is not only well written, acted and directed but also widely enjoyable.
Directed – Danny Boyle
Rated – R
Run Time – 117 minutes