Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller Return in Danny Boyle’s Shamelessly Nostalgic ‘T2 Trainspotting’
“It’s the beginning of the end, so you might as well set fire to your friends.” Thus croons the opening song in Danny Boyle’s “T2 Trainspotting,” the long-overdue sequel to his 1996 renegade hit. It is 20 years later – in our world and in Boyle’s feverish, drug-fueled Edinburgh – and the original “Trainspotting” crew is back to set each other aflame.
The original “Trainspotting” left junkies Renton (Ewan McGregor), Begbie (Robert Carlyle), Simon, né Sickboy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Spud (Ewen Bremner) heading in different directions after a betrayal by Renton during a heroin heist. Now, we find each member of the crew in varying states of middle-aged ennui: Spud, peppy but brittle, attends heroin addicts anonymous classes in a local church as an attempt to cling together the threads of his remaining life; Simon, ever the doped-up con-man, is running a blackmail scheme with his young Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (a terrific Anjela Nedyalkova); and Begbie is (shocker!) in jail, raging at the Queen and devising gruesome escape plans. Renton, meanwhile, seems to be the perfect picture of a born- again Christian, returning to Edinburgh all clean-shaven and dolled up in brand-name athletic wear. Yet even for Renton, the prodigal “one who got out,” everything is not as peachy as it seems.
Bluntly speaking, “T2” is to “Trainspotting” as “Finding Dory” is to “Finding Nemo”: each original movie broke new ground and became an instant classic, leaving little room – or need – for a sequel. Each sequel bills itself as an answer to burning questions, but a cynic might respond by observing that each spends most of its runtime revisiting old gags. That is not to say that “T2” is not as frenetic and cinematically trip-tastic as the original – it certainly is – but that the film is a bit too self-indulgent with its own history. The iconic “choose life” opening sequence of “Trainspotting” is not only referenced obliquely, but replayed literally, and then expounded upon in a nearly identical, updated version by Renton. Scenes from the first film are interspersed throughout in sepia-toned, slanted flashbacks, and even Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” – immortalized by the pounding, manic footsteps of the crew in the aforementioned “Trainspotting” sequence – gets a remix on the “T2” soundtrack. It may seem unfair to compare a sequel so blatantly to its predecessor, but to be fair, “T2” does it first. As Simon remarks to Renton: “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here.”
Most of the time, however, it actually works. The story that plays out in “T2” does feel like a natural progression for the characters – they’re addicts, so it makes sense that they would re-embark on a self-destructive cycle. “T2” also contains a bonkers gross-out scene to rival the toilet-entry fever dream of the original “Trainspotting,” as the film traverses the exhilarating, fractured, postmodern method of visual storytelling. Plus, “T2” updates “Trainspotting” even while reveling in its wistfulness; there’s a new rollicking, pulse-pumping soundtrack featuring Queen, Brian Eno, The Clash, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, not to mention a thigh-smackingly funny song performed by Renton and Simon at a secret club for bigots. Even Renton’s “choose life” rehashing veers into new territory, ending off in bitter, surprisingly poignant disappointment.
And that’s where “T2” really hits its stride. By adopting a bird’s eye view of past events, “T2” exposes the pathological nature of nostalgia and muddies the difference between a life wasted and a life well-lived. From the jingoistic pub crawlers who romanticize less-tolerant times to the washed-up “Trainspotting” characters themselves, nostalgia is invoked not just for perks, but for pathos.
“T2 Trainspotting” opens in limited release on March 17 and nationwide on March 31.