Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Anjela Nedyalkova
Running Time: 117mins
You know that you are starting to hit your middle age stride when the reunions start happening. I’m not talking about five or ten year ones, I’m talking 20 years. 20 bloody years since you’ve been part of something or were somewhere. This happened to me last year; it was a 20 year reunion from the time I went to University. This is all great but it doesn’t half make you wonder where the hell the time has gone since you were in your prime. And much like Sick Boy at Mark Renton’s return there was plenty “Alright Gav, what you been up to for 20 years?” And this is where we begin……
When T2 was announced there was excitement but when that fades a little there is hope. Hope that this new film, 20 years after the original, doesn’t trample all over the memory of Danny Boyle’s iconic film of 1996, hope that it isn’t shit and hope that it doesn’t just try to rehash all the ideas from the original film. Well, I can say that it does none of those things. T2 takes the story from the original film and uses fairly few elements from the past, but what it does use it provides a touchstone, a reminder of the good times, but this film is entirely its own beast.
With Mark Renton returning to Edinburgh it is inevitable that he would see people from his past and they are all here; Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewan Bremner) and Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle). With what happened at the end of the first film Mark is not the most popular of this group of friends, and with good reason.
The nostalgia element is there but it is really well done. A hark and a mention to the past for their motivation (mostly Franco’s and Sick Boy’s), but this film uses the memorable characters from the first film in an entirely different way. Out goes drugs and in comes “Saunas” and girls. And it is this change that makes this film all the more palatable, there are no real shocking moments or disgusting moments (especially like baby Dawn crawling along the ceiling – genuinely frightening). They are all great characters and they still have their personalities to the fore and their traits. It must have been a blast to slip back into the roles after so long and I got the feeling that they had a good time filming this one. There is more of an element of humour in this than I remember in the first film and that too adds to the lighter tone. The only bit of nostalgia that felt forced was the Choose Life speech in the middle of the film, and although it was nice to get the reasoning behind that speech from the first film, this one felt rushed and unnatural and tinged with more than a little bit of bitterness about a society that had rejected him and moved on, leaving him behind rather than his rejection of society’s norms from the original film.
Musically, it isn’t as strong as the original, but that would have had to be an immense collection to oust the now iconic soundtrack and it does hint at some of the songs, playing a snippet or a cover version to remind you of the power of the original tracks but never quite expanding or quenching your desire to hear it in all its glory.
I found the frenetic start a bit too much and it was a bit disorienting but it soon settles down into its stride and goes about setting up the plot really well, reintroducing the characters again, seeing what they are up to and finding out what has happened in the interim.
Some of the scenes are amazing, like the chase scene and Renton and Sick Boy’s reintroduction. Edinburgh itself plays an important role as the location and also in reminding the characters of their past youth. There are some quite stunning views of this beautiful city.
At the end this is a film that is all about a gang of lads who have known each other since they were wee kids, and the multiple visual and spoken references really helps to hammer this point home: You may be grown men now but you will always be the same group of boys who went to school together, so much history, so many interconnections. The reintroduction of Mark after all these years causes them all to look back on their lives, seeing what they’ve done and how they have succeeded or failed and blaming others for their inadequacies.
It may have been 20 years since they played these parts last but it felt like slipping on a favourite pair of old shoes, comfortable and makes you feel good to be back in them again. McGregor’s Renton isn’t the stand out performance for this film as Spud and Begbie take the more important roles and command the attention more than their more illustrious compadre. Danny Boyle’s direction is first rate, controlling this film with an assured hand, and tied in with John Hodge’s screenplay and Anthony Dod Mantle’s camerawork it has made this film something that can stand on its own merit, even if it does owe a lot to the previous film in setting up these most famous of Scottish characters, it can hold its head up high as much more than just a cash grab sequel.
For better or worse, I can completely identify with these guys as they are reaching a new phase of life, thinking about their pasts, making amends and trying to find their new place as the generation no longer at the forefront, no longer cutting new ground and finally feeling their age. T2 is never going to eclipse the immense impact that Trainspotting had back in 1996 but it is a great addition to this group of characters and their story.