After twenty odd drug-ravaged years, director Danny Boyle returns to his iconic vision of Edinburgh to revisit author Irvine Welsh's ragtag bunch of heroin-addicted hooligans who are now somewhat ghosts of their former selves. The bafflingly titled T2 Trainspotting is loosely inspired by Welsh's follow-up novel Porno as Boyle and returning screenwriter John Hodge craft a very self-referential and nostalgic follow-up take on the emotional economics of a life of addiction.
The filmmakers wisely focus the film on our aging men finding who they are as adults and their drug-induced midlife crises twenty years later. Gone are some of the flashier trademark elements like the pulsating 1990s rock music and endless scenes of grimey drug dens traded in for a mostly quiet reflection and stylistic cutaways to years gone past and a sense of youth wasted.
Renton, a still youthful Ewan McGregor, and Sick Boy, a more maniacal but still bleach blonde Jonny Lee Miller, have long since given up smack but are still scheming and getting by as struggling middle-aged men after getting reacquainted many years after Renton's betrayal. McGregor and Miller effortlessly rekindle their playful chemistry in spades. Their buddy comedy act on screen and back and forth riffing as they aim to become shady small businessmen is able to sustain the film's half-baked premise.
Surprisingly, Ewen Bremner's performance is the film's heart and clearest nod or attachment to the original film as Spud remains an addict through and through having lost it all several times over. He has the closest thing to a full story arc using an attempted suicide, his many estranged relationships, and redemption effort as a writer to move the plot forward. It's a touching, charismatically affecting portrayal of human desperation and genuine emotions motivated by a longing for personal connections and friendship.
Begbie, still terrifyingly played by Robert Carlyle, is the film's most forced element as a he escapes prison looking for revenge and a semblance of fatherhood along the way. He's become even more of an unrepentant scumbag and rage-filled psychopath incapable of much of any real substance.
Anjela Nedyalkova is the film's only notable addition as Simon's prostitute girlfriend and underlying element of mystery teasing a reveal that never quite comes. She's game but feels like a device leading to the film's eventual conclusion bridging Mark, Simon, and Spud together as a foil to their antics. Her character depth is teased but eventually sacrificed to spend more time fleshing out the returning leads and looming showdown with Begbie.
The film ultimately plays as a sly if wry commentary on the nature of late in life sequel stories and how they explore new stories by revisiting old ones. The film has little ambition to live up to the groundbreaking and timely narrative of the original's European economics as it instead thoughtfully dissects its individual character elements through the passage of time.
T2 is ultimately a sombre exercise in reflection on the malaise of male youth in the midst of middle-aged stagnation. Boyle shows his continued reverence for these well-worn characters exploring nostalgia and our past in honest and still inventive ways. The Trainspotting story manages to continue in a new and contemporary way as an epilogue or coda embracing its hopeless affection for a heroin-soaked 1996 era Scotland.
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