The infamous dive into the toilet. The baby on the ceiling. The foot chase through Edinburgh, culminating in the most famous movie smile of the 90’s. Danny Boyle’s breakthrough Trainspotting roared into the pop-culture lexicon in 1996 and remains just as relevant today. Boyle’s classic combines his now ubiquitous style (quick cuts, freeze frames, oddly placed subtitles) with the travails of a group of heroin addicts in the hellscape port of Leith. It’s Boyles one true masterpiece, capturing a moment in time that found Scotland and its youth in crisis. So, on the surface it does seem odd to revisit Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud 20-years later. What could these four possibly have to say anymore?
In T2 Trainspotting it turns out, a lot. Renton (Ewan McGregor) is returning to his hometown after 20-years of self-imposed exile in Amsterdam after he stole $16,000 pounds from his mates following a drug deal that wrapped up their first go-round. After a nasty heart attack on a treadmill and news of his mother passing Renton figures he should pop around town to check in and possibly make amends with the best friends he’s ever had.
As you can imagine this doesn’t go particularly well. He first checks in on Spud (Ewen Bremner) who is still addicted to smak which has led him to alienate his girlfriend and only son. Lucky for him Renton conveniently knocks on the door as Spud is breathing his last wanted breath into a plastic bag. It’s a beautiful scene that has Boyle’s full breadth of talent on display as Renton tears off the bag in a vomit-laced display of heroism.
Next on the docket is Sick Boy/Simon (Jonny Lee Miller,) Renton’s best friend and partner. Not much has changed for Sick Boy either as he’s been gifted his Father’s bar (the now infamous Port Sunshine Pub) and has a filthy pension for cocaine. He does have ideas though – one especially grand where he plans to turn his rundown dive into a high-class brothel (a “sauna” as he calls it.) Sick Boy, despite his effervescent hustle, isn’t as happy with Renton’s return. When the duo meet for the first time in two-decades what ensues is one of the film’s best comic set pieces – a knockdown, drag out brawl. The fight sprawls across the bar smashing into every decrepit booth, chair and patron. It’s madness that only Boyle can truly do justice.
Finally, there’s Begbie (Robert Carlyle.) Serving 25-years in prison for a life of breaking and entering it’s probably good that Renton never see him again. That chance is quickly wiped away when Begbie engineers an absolutely idiotic plan to escape from prison – that low and behold, works. After he catches wind of Renton’s return it’s just a matter of time before he gets a chance at revenge.
While Boyle constantly reminds us of how sharp his original casting was he uses T2 as an opportunity to comment and revel in nostalgia. Sequels are a constant reminder of what we loved about the original and usually a crushing deconstruction of them. I actually admired Boyle’s effort here. He’s lost none of his verve and uses it not only to comment on the state of his characters but on the state of Edinburgh as well. The boys home of Leith is still as disgusting as it was 20-years prior but the rest of the city looks almost alien. They hop between rundown pubs near the docks to posh high-rise restaurants and conveyor-belt champagne houses. It’s stark gentrification that Boyle uses sparingly enough to have an impact.
That the four main actors often comment on the concept of nostalgia is a tad heavy handed and Boyle can’t help but revisit many famous scenes from the original, almost stopping to wink at the audience (the one exception being Renton’s reprisal of the “Choose Life” speech which is brilliantly rehashed here.) Even still, I found this completely unexpected sequel to be a dour joy of sorts. These men have gleeful spirits which they use for absolutely dastardly and self-destructive means. In their world nostalgia kills but in a sadistic twist it may be the only thing keeping them alive.