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T2 picks up some 20 years after the events of Trainspotting, catching up with its characters as they meet again, still stinging from Renton’s (Ewan McGregor) betrayal at the end of the first film. In the 21 years since Trainspotting’s release we’ve seen Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor break up and make up, now returning with the original cast and crew on top form for a belated sequel. Screenwriter John Hodge draws on the book’s sequel Porno (which is set 10 years after Trainspotting) to bring us a furiously funny, bittersweet film about crime, fatherhood and debatable decisions. T2 runs the risk of criticism that it’s self-indulgent nostalgia but the film doesn’t skirt around this, tackling it head on as a film about nostalgia, engaging with the idea and often making fun of it.
Where the first film was about youth, T2 is about middle-age. In Trainspotting, Renton narrates with cynicism and contempt; in the opening scenes of T2 he’s quiet. Intensely quiet as if he’s speechless and paralysed with the contemplation of his mid-life crisis. But he soon gets his voice back and we’re launched into a narrative driven by greed and reminiscence. Much like the first film, you can see its origins as a novel with inconsequential but hilarious detours and plural perspectives.
As a sequel T2 is excellent. Paying homage to the first film with detailed references ranging from subtle to overt and imbues them with new meanings. Subtle references include quick nods to iconic scenes such as The Worst Toilet in Scotland. More overt ones can be seen in the gang’s visit to the highlands as they pay tribute to their late friend Tommy (Kevin McKidd), who passed away in the first film. A lot of iconic imagery is recreated; an understated example is when Renton visits his parents’ home now that his mother has passed away. Renton and his father sit at their living room table with the exact same staging, framing and peeling wallpaper as Trainspotting. His mother’s seat is empty but her shadow is still there on the wall. If I hadn’t revisited the first film the night before, I probably would’ve missed it, but it’s a touching moment. What was once an image of the sedated, working class suburb has evolved to a melancholy take on the passage of time.
T2 takes a thoughtful spin on the old material while injecting some novelty, exemplified through the use of music in the film. Take the Prodigy remix of Lust for Life or Slow Slippy, (another take on Born Slippy .NUXX), now accompanied by contemporary artists like Wolf Alice and Edinburgh-based Young Fathers.
This film is much kinder to Scotland this time around without the anger and projected loathing of youth. Trainspotting was filmed mostly in Glasgow due to the budget. With T2 they can film in Edinburgh and show it off, with a chase sequence through a beautiful part of the old city, looking through the eyes of a returning Renton and novelty from Begbie, fresh out of prison.
Boyle evokes the past well, using footage from the first film as well as actors playing younger incarnations of the characters in silhouette and Super 8. These moments are effectively filmed with expressionistic lighting, looking vague or half-remembered and feeling like a memory.
Every time the film strays close to cringe-y sentimentality it makes a well-timed cut or gag to undermine or make fun of itself. The repetition of footage and references to the first film, followed by a self-aware gag about nostalgia could possibly become grating. But these things are delivered so brilliantly and affectingly, that right now, in the post-screening high, I’m exhilarated by T2: Trainspotting.