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Review: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Premise: A sequel to the 1996 film. Picking up twenty years after the events of Trainspotting, Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Scotland and reconnects with the companions he had cheated out of a large sum of money.

What Works: One of the popular trends in moviemaking right now is the nostalgia sequel. Movies like Creed and Jurassic World and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens revisited properties of the 1980s and 90s and continued those stories in ways that nostalgically recaptured the spirit of the earlier movies while incorporating contemporary filmmaking techniques. 1996’s Trainspotting did not suggest a sequel but T2 Trainspotting is a good example of the nostalgia sequel done right. Taking place two decades after the original movie, Trainspotting 2 catches up with the surviving characters and the filmmakers do a very good job in handling each of them. Where the original Trainspotting was primarily about Renton, played by Ewan McGreggor, the sequel is about these men as a group and the action divides between them fairly evenly. Renton’s mother has died and his marriage has disintegrated and so he returns to his familiar stomping grounds. Spud, played by Ewan Bremmer, is still a heroin user and he has barely moved on from the first movie while Simon/Sick Boy, played by Jonny Lee Miller, manages his father’s bar and engages in a blackmailing scheme with his girlfriend, played by Anjela Nedyalkova. Meanwhile, Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle, escapes from prison and plans revenge on Renton. The film returns to these characters and finds each of them in a place that’s logically appropriate to who they were. Trainspotting 2 does not try to recapture the original because that’s impossible. Instead, the sequel plays as a middle-aged reflection on the first movie and it frequently echoes the original film in ways that give new meaning to recurring images. Trainspotting was energetic and rebellious; the sequel is more subdued in a way that is appropriate to the characters. They are crippled by age and drug use, haunted by their youth, and dissatisfied with their lives but they are also trapped by their own bad habits and personalities. The movie is filled with melancholy and regret while also retaining the fast talking sense of humor that made the original picture so memorable.

What Doesn’t: Trainspotting 2 suffers from strained storytelling. It’s unbelievable that Renton would return to Scotland. Given the way the first film concluded and the circumstances in which he left his friends, it seems unlikely that Renton would revisit his hometown and even less likely that he would go out of his way to reconnect with his cabal of former heroin addicts. It’s a big leap in credibility that the movie never quite gets over. Like its characters, Trainspotting 2 lacks focus and the middle of the movie is less an escalating narrative than it is a whirlwind of random events. The first movie was specifically about substance abuse and it began with the fun of heroine and gradually gave way to the horror of addiction. The sequel is less sure of what it is trying to say. Addiction is tangential to this installment; the implications and possibilities of relapse are just out of reach of the story and the ongoing struggle of the addict comes and goes throughout the film. The resolution of Trainspotting 2 does not bring matters to a close in an entirely satisfying way. A great deal of the movie is about the relationship between these middle-aged men and their misspent youth and that material is quite good. The conclusion of Trainspotting 2 does not bring that nostalgia to an epiphany but it does wrap up the individual character’s stories. The result is a conclusion that is at once too tidy and not decisive enough.  

Bottom Line:T2 Trainspotting is a flawed but successful sequel. It’s one of the more thoughtful examples of the nostalgia sequel and it incorporates wistful perspective in a way that is smart and perceptive.

Episode: #644 (April 23, 2017)