T2 Trainspotting [Review by Haus]
Before we talk about what T2 Trainspotting is, let’s be clear on what it’s not: namely, the Trainspotting for a new generation. It couldn’t be, anyway, with its heavy dependence on backstory, with most of its protagonists now pushing 50, and with what once shocked our innocent pre-Google moviegoing minds no longer even moving the needle.
No, T2 is a nostalgia film, through and through. If you saw the first one in the theater, and have since orbited the sun twenty damn times and want very much to have your nose rubbed in that fact, then you’re pretty much the target audience and you’ll find this a sharp and welcome vein-shot from memory lane. If you’ve never seen the first, this installment will probably make no sense at all.
That doesn’t mean, mind you, that you need to have seen it lately. I confess I felt unprepared walking into this movie. While I did see Trainspotting in the theater in ’96, and have seen it at least a couple times since, it’s been well over a decade and the story wasn’t exactly fresh in my mind. But director Danny Boyle must’ve seen this coming, because he sprinkles helpful refreshers throughout. He also liberally injects clips from the first film, typically using old locations as a trigger to overlay some original footage. Reminiscent of CHiPs ’99? Sure, but that’s a reference for a level-fourteen battlemage of B-rate movies (or a reader of my last review).
So T2 picks up where Trainspotting left off. In case you too need a hint, this means Renton (Ewan McGregor) has just made off with the money, finally escaping a doomed and wild life for good and screwing over his ne’er-do-well pals Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in the process. Now in T2, Renton returns home from twenty years abroad, and reconnects with those same characters, who’re all still in Edinburgh.
I will say that their character trajectories are faithful and ring true. Of course, whether you really want to meet those kids twenty years on is another question. I did.
The chief risk of sequels is that they drop a large, vaporous dung on the original film and whatever legacy it may have. (See, for instance, Hot Tub Time Machine 2.) Rest assured, that doesn’t happen here. This is a Danny Boyle film. Not his very best, perhaps, but that’s a tall order anyway.
Then there’s the special risk associated with waiting this long to make a sequel: The inescapable (and often uneven) aging of the talent. We saw this dragon barely kept at bay in Bridget Jones with its 15 year span, but at 21 years, T2 lands squarely on par with a triple installment of the Up Series. There’s just no escaping it. Well, almost none: With the exception of McGregor (who’s been a primped and pampered, Black-Hawk-Down, tsunami-swept, Sith-stabbing Jedi A-lister since 1996), and Kelly Macdonald (whose brief cameo feels semi-gratuitous, but who looks not a day past 25), everyone’s aged pretty dramatically. Be warned.
T2 plays with many of the same themes as the first film, but also adds in layers of semi-sentimental reminiscence, and of wonder at how little really changes. (Is a junkie always a junkie? And on the other hand, has Renton in fact become the very sap he once decried?)
What’s funny is that in its savage skewer of the mainstream pursuits of the nineties, the original Trainspotting now seems quite quaint and very much a product of its time.
With his famous “choose life” monologue, the 1996 Renton channeled a disenchanted youth, flipping the bird at mainstream society and its sugar-drip lives of game shows and meaningless consumption and endless emptiness. The second tries to do this as well, taking equally brutal swats at status updates and Twitter and mobile phones and locavores and other modern nonsense. It’s well done, and not too heavy-handed. My favorite part of T2, in fact, was the updated “choose life” — in execution, if not in concept.
Unlike the first one though, I doubt this will be anyone’s favorite movie — except perhaps the fortysomething wallflower at the 25-year reunion wondering why we can never escape who we are, and more than that, where in hell it all went.
This isn’t a particularly pleasant or soothing film, but then neither was the first. This also isn’t an attempt to unseat the first from its rightly-earned cult pedestal. It’s more like the long-overdue final stanza to an unfinished story, wrapping up a tale that in our relative youth was left unfinished. It does its best with the inevitable questions of time, but in all, it leaves the world of the original in better shape than it found it. For that, I say: See it.
Haus Verdict: Not for the uninitiated, perhaps, but a worthy follow-on for fans of Boyle’s 1996 classic.
T2 Trainspotting opened Friday, March 17.
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