T2: Trainspotting: Film Review
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kelly MacDonald
Director: Danny Boyle
"Nostalgia - that's why you're here."
A pertinently meta-line uttered in a casual fashion but, with a degree of bile from Jonny Lee Miller's Sick Boy to Ewan McGregor's Mark Renton, underpins a lot of T2: Trainspotting and runs through its narrative veins as strongly as the heroin injected by the gang way back in the 1990s.
If Trainspotting was the adrenaline-fuelled, high octane trip way back then, T2: Trainspotting is the comedown after the high, the joke that no-one's laughing at - a tacit admission that 20 years on, not everything is better and that regret is the only drug we all collectively share.
20 years later, after ripping off his friends Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie to the tune of 16 grand, Mark Renton returns to Edinburgh for reasons that are initially unclear.
With every one of the group's lives in tatters to varying degrees of acknowledgment (Spud's lost his family and is still on drugs, SickBoy's resorting to blackmailing sexual deviants in a brothel while being high on copious amounts of cocaine, and Begbie's been residing at Her Majesty's pleasure for 2 decades), Renton's return stirs up a simmering cauldron of regret, bitterness and perhaps most surprisingly, redemption.
But as the group's paths collectively collide once again, the sins of the past could overwhelm them all.
It's always going to be hard re-capturing the zeitgeist that the original Trainspotting encapsulated.
With the times of Blur, Oasis, Iggy Pop's Lust for Life and cool Britannia still ringing in your collective ears, Trainspotting was itself a defining cinematic experience, celebrating anti-heroes and presenting a truth about Britannia's underclasses that was scarcely seen.
Presenting drug-addled skeletal scum like Renton and making them look cool, and effortless as anti-heroes as well, the first film's despicable joie de vivre was unassailable and following it up was always going to be a hard task, no matter who was involved.
However, it's more than fair to say with a smattering of elements of Irvine Welsh's Porno, this emotionally inspired sequel hits a lot of the marks needed to ensure the trip is worth it again. T2: Trainspotting is a heady, stylistic romp into regret, friendship, betrayal, remorse and guilt.
It's also a mercilessly more mature and restrained piece of film-making from director Danny Boyle.
Robbed of the drug culture that so defined the group and the fact it's some 20 years later, there's a different dynamic at play here. Flashes of nostalgia and moments from the first film flit in between the bitterness that fuels this latest. Single notes of the tunes from the first film (Underworld's Born Slippy, that drum from Iggy Pop's Lust For Life) float in and out of the movie, seamlessly interweaving the film with the first.
And in some bravura touches, that shot of Renton mercilessly off his face and laughing after he hits the bonnet of a car is cleverly rendered again but in a less than salubrious sequence.
Flashes of the first film threaten, at times, to overwhelm Boyle's movie; almost as if you're being relentlessly teased with what made the first film so iconic and so memorable. But Boyle's smart enough to make these touches almost cameo-like and never once lets them swamp proceedings. Complete with freeze frames and a more reflexive and reflective take on proceedings, T2: Trainspotting is about the betrayal of youth and the failure of promise.
And all of his actors rise to the occasion as this reunion fires into life among the Edinburgh landmarks.
Notably though, it's Ewen Bremner's goggle-eyed tragedy-laced almost-idiot-savant Spud who rises from the ashes in the sequel as the film's surprising MVP.
His suicide attempt at the start and the subsequent imagery employed by Boyle to signify how far he's falling is as eye-popping as it is heart-breaking. But fear not, much like the worst toilet in Edinburgh and the dead baby in the first film, T2 doesn't scrimp away from the grim realities of desperate and disparate choices coming together.
In among the drug hints and past transgressions, there's another world that's come to the fore - the world of the Millennials, which is brutally skewered in an unnecessary (and dangerously close to pale imitation) update of Renton's original and oft-quoted Choose Life rant.
However, all up, T2: Trainspotting has an undeniable cinematic quality, an intoxicating mix and while the narrative doesn't, thankfully, have the frenetic pace of the first film (after all, nobody really wants a pale re-hash of what made the first so iconic), its rhythms and muted story say more than any sequel ever could.
Effortless dynamics between the quartet reflect real life friendships and with more than a casual hint of truisms in the dialogue, the film's spin on regret, squandered promises and past discrepancies comes vibrantly to life as the black humour bubbles away quietly in the background.
It may side-step criticisms that it doesn't find its own voice and lives distinctively in the shadow of the first film, but this companion piece movie cum sequel is much more than just the sum of its parts.
Older audiences, well versed in the first may get more than a nostalgic tinge from the past evocations, but T2: Trainspotting is a ride well worth boarding. Along with Boyle's eye for editing detail and the cast's easy-going chemistry that papers over some of the narrative weaknesses, it positively crackles and sizzles like any sequel worth its salt should do.