I was quite excited to see what Boyle and the gang could deliver with a follow-up.
Disappointment. Disappointment is what they delivered, if I'm honest. Let's just get this out the way first before I attempt to judge it on it's own merits; it just didn't feel like Trainspotting. Sure, all the characters are back, but Spud was the only one that really felt like the older version of his younger self. Renton is bland, uninteresting, and looks far too polished thanks to a now world-famous Ewan McGregor, Begbie's stint in jail seems to have robbed him of any sense of intimidation (ironically thanks to not being scrawny any more), and while Sick Boy's bleach-blonde hair and failed entrepreneurial mannerisms are still intact, he lacks the smarm from the first film (possibly forgivable considering the twenty years that have passed). Then there's the lack of narration, interspersed flashbacks, and a restraint in how much it actually decides to show, and it pretty much lacks any of the things that made the first film so revolutionary, and instead gives way to a much more traditional and Hollywood- polished film.
But judged on it's own merits? The story is a little lacking, bar a few choice moments and sub-plots. The first act is entirely focused on showing where these guys have been for the last twenty years. Renton is back from Amsterdam with a wedding ring on his finger and a story of ill health, Sick Boy has been pimping out his girlfriend in order to blackmail wealthy individuals with a particular fetish that's not all that shocking by today's standards, Begbie's been couped in prison, and Spud lived a happy life with Gail and their son, until he lost everything thanks to British Summer Time and reverted back to the life of a junkie. It takes quite a while before they all band together; Renton, Sick Boy and Spud endeavour to create a "sauna" in a pub Sick Boy inherited, while Begbie is out for violent vengeance against Renton. As stories go, it's a little underwhelming, and ultimately boils down to spoiling the perfectly profound ending of the first film through over-explaining.
It's not a complete failure though. Begbie's place in the story adds excitement and tension, and thankfully stays true to his character, but is ultimately a little superfluous and coincidental (he manages to break out of jail the same time Renton returns?). Spud's sub-plot is by far the most interesting, the most heart-felt, and the most powerful. He was a little pushed aside in the first film, but he welcomes a lot of great development the second time around.
Humour-wise, again it has it's moments, but is otherwise a little underwhelming. Renton and Sick Boy's song about a conflict in 1690 is certainly an entertaining highlight, and many of Begbie's scenes are bathed in a cruel sense of light- heartedness, but in all I didn't find myself laughing all that much. Satirically it's lacking as well. It tries to poke fun at middle aged men in a modern world they don't fully understand, but it often feels like being whacked over the head with a 2x4. Renton's updated 'Choose Life' speech, for instance, lacks any resemblance of sarcasm or subtext and pretty much just spells it out for you.
Musically it's a bit of a mixed bag, and I mean that literally. It attempts to strike a smooth balance between those iconic tracks of the movie twenty years ago, as well as injecting some music a little more modern. Iggy Pop's Lust for Life and Underworld's Born Slippy return, but not as you remember them; the former remixed by The Prodigy, and the latter slowed down and warped. For modern music there's a selection ranging from Wolf Alice to Young Fathers, and just to appeal to the older viewers and their nostalgia there's a heavy dose of Pet Shop Boys, Queen, and Blondie. Ultimately though, none of it is nearly as iconic or memorable as it wants to be. The modern tracks are bland and forgettable, and the old tracks are so overused they've drifted into cliché. Honestly, the remixes were the best part of the whole soundtrack, embodying the very notion of the old, modernised.
T2 isn't a complete trainwreck. Judged on it's own merits it's a well-made film that tells an interesting, if slightly underwhelming tale of middle-aged men in a modern world they don't understand. The last twenty years haven't been kind to this group of friends, and the next twenty don't hold any promises either; "He gave me thirty years. What am I supposed to do with thirty years? Two or three I could figure something out, but thirty?!" At the end of the day, T2 can't decide if it wants to be it's own thing, or be a direct descendant of it's predecessor. It wants to break away with a new format and new sensibilities, but can't stop itself from pointing out the connections with blunt-force trauma. I give T2 Trainspotting a disappointingly average 6/10. If I ever watch it again, it'll purely be for Spud's sub-plot, which was actually brilliant.
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