A film review by Craig J. Koban July 17, 2017


2017, R, 117 mins.


Ewan McGregor as Mark Renton  /  Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy  /  Ewen Bremner as Spud  /  Robert Carlyle as Francis Begbie  /  Anjela Nedyalkova as Nikki  /  Kelly MacDonald as Diane  /  Shirley Henderson as Gail

Directed by Danny Boyle  /  Written by John Hodge, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh

The original TRAINSPOTTING, make no mistake about it, was a seminal film of the 1990's and one that had an immediate and seismic impact on the movie pop culture of its decade.  Danny Boyle's multiple Oscar nominated drug infused black comedy not only helped cement its director as a unique new filmmaking maverick with an ultra intense kinetic and hallucinatory aesthetic, but it also established its star Ewan McGregor as a future Hollywood A-lister  Of course, it was the whole film's breakneck and breathlessly caffeinated stylistic trappings that struck a massive chord with audiences; every other person I knew in college had this film's poster on their dorm room walls back in the day. 

Here's the thing, though, that may offend devotees of Boyle's 1996 effort: I remember the film's reckless free-wheeling energy and a handful of its iconic scenes more than the entire film as a whole itself.  Perhaps that was much of the point in adapting the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh: to capture the heroin-fuelled obsessions of its main characters.  So, on a level of haunting dreamlike visuals, TRAINSPOTTING was unlike anything I saw at the time.  But I also remember not finding myself emotionally attached to the film or any of its characters, not to mention that, when it boils right down to it, it felt aimlessly plotted.  The thought of Boyle and his original cast re-teaming for a long gestating sequel - also loosely based on Welsh's own sequel novel PORNO - was greeted with mixed emotions by me.  Nostalgia can be an exceedingly tricky force when it comes to the movies; a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING would either just monotonously rehash the original wholesale and give fans what they want or it would take its characters and story into fresh new directions.   



The head shakingly odd titled T2: TRAINSPOTTING (is this an unused sequel name for the TERMINATOR franchise?) tries to regrettably have it both ways, which I think does the film a pretty massive disservice.  On one level, it's a somewhat compellingly rendered postscript to the lives of all of its Edinburgh hooligans and criminal thugs presented in the initial film, so revisiting these young lowlifes two decades later is ripe for dramatic and comedic possibilities.  As a sobering meditation of aging and how that inalterably affects people, T2: TRAINSPOTTING is a hypnotic watch.  On the other hand, though, Boyle (once again returning behind the director's chair) seems to spend an inordinate amount of time making call-backs to the first film to the point of redundancy.  That, and the overall screenplay here is just as, if not more, shapeless and meandering than its predecessor, which made it awfully hard to care about any of its stakes.  There were multiple times during the course of the film when I struggled to comprehend what Boyle was ultimately trying to tell us about his characters and how time has altered them.  The subversive grittiness, remarkably attuned performances, and directorial flamboyance of the first film are well on display here, but beyond that T2: TRAINSPOTTING is a pretty hollow experience. 

In case you forgot the ending to TRAINSPOTTING, it concluded with Mark "Rent Boy" Renton (McGregor) betraying his BFFs during a heroin sting, which lead to him taking the money for himself and escaping out of the city.  As T2: TRAINSPOTTING opens we are introduced to the unusual sight of a longer haired and apparently healthier Mark working out in an Amsterdam gym, but any hint that he's a pillar of physical fitness that has put his sordid past behind him comes crashing down when he passes out while on his treadmill.  Of course, this mostly underwritten opening section just serves as a prelude to Mark making a fateful return to his old stomping grounds in Scotland to have chance meetings with his former friends that he double crossed. 

When back in Edinburgh Mark reacquaints himself back with Spud (James Cosmos) during an eerie, but oddly funny moment that involves a botched suicide attempt by the former.  Even though Spud is angered by Mark's intrusion on his life - and potential ending of his life - Mark nevertheless yearns to set him back on a right path well away from past chemical addictions.  Less rosy is Mark's reunion with "Sick Boy" Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), which initially erupts into fisticuffs.  Simon still dabbles in drugs, which he funds via incredibly convoluted blackmail schemes that involves his girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova) seducing prominent rich men into bed and then filming it.  Lastly, there's Begbie (Robert Carlyle), the most dangerous man of the former group of pals that ended up going to prison after the events of the last film...and he seriously has developed a level of deeply rooted hatred for Mark.  After a parole hearing goes south, Begbie decides to break himself out of prison and, wouldn't you know it, has a chance rendezvous with Mark, Spud and Simon.  Being a volatile sociopath, Begbe is the least congenial upon meeting back up with Mark and forgiving him for his past duplicity.   

T2: TRAINSPOTTING is always an engaging film because of its strong performance assets and all of the aforementioned actors have seemingly not missed a beat in returning to the roles they made popular two decades ago.  It's always intriguing to see actors that have matured over the passage of time return to roles that launched their careers, and its that very potent passage of time and seeing these men inhabit these blokes as much older and broken down men that gives T2: TRAINSPOTTING an enthralling aura.  This sequel does have a few echoes of the original that will undoubtedly put rather large all knowing smiles of viewers' faces, like, for instance, seeing Mark occupying a deplorably filthy bathroom and a very late scene that has him jiggling to Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life," the most iconic song that laced the 1996's film's soundtrack. 

Admittedly, I did smile a lot during T2: TRAINSPOTTING, but I had great difficulty embracing this new story, which kept me grimacing at a frustrating arm's distance.  The script is essentially a very thinly assembled group of vignettes in search of a larger cohesive narrative, one that has Mark, more often than not, just stumbling between all of his former friends and finding himself getting re-involved in their current states of distress.  Some characters - especially female ones - get terribly marginalized here, especially Simon's girlfriend, who's not really altogether fleshed out as a developed person and more or less is in the film for the purposes of serving as a plot driving mechanism.  Then there's a cameo by Kelly MacDonald - who played an underage party girl in the last film - that's in this sequel so frustratingly little that you're left wondering why she's even in it.  We learn that she has long since abandoned he former frat girl ways and has become a well-to-do corporate lawyer, which would have been an enticing through line for the plot if it afforded her more screen time and relevance.   

Boyle's hyperactive and boisterous visual flourishes were cutting edge and audacious years ago, but I've been in the minority in finding his style to be insufferable to experience at times in many of his post-TRAINSPOTTING films (his most recent effort, STEVE JOBS, was one of his best films because of how atypically lean and economical his direction was in it).  In T2: TRAINSPOTTING Boyle goes back to the well and splatters the screen with flashy and chaotic imagery, but it rarely feels as fresh and novel as it did in 1996.  If anything, Boyle's intense predilection to re-appropriating his once lighting-in-a-bottle artistic flair seems to distract away from the film's more meaningful themes and narrative undercurrents.  T2: TRAINSPOTTING frequently works as an intoxicating odyssey of trippy imagery, but it's undone by a lopsided script that's lacking in satisfying follow-through.  Aside from a pitch perfectly rendered final moment in the film that's like an overdose on giddy nostalgia, Boyle's treatment of the material here rarely commanded my interest. 

Maybe that's the ultimate problem with long awaited sequels to cult classics...and cinematic nostalgia in general.  T2: TRAINSPOTTING offers up ample fan servicing for those most devoted die hards of its decades old prequel, but it never successfully stands fully and proudly apart from the mighty big shadow that it casts.  Again, I will never confess to be a "lover" of the original TRAINSPOTTING, but it was an unmistakable jolt of electricity driven straight to the heart of the film world at a time that desperately required it.  And it was a daring artistic original that went places few films of its era did.  No question.  Regrettable, T2: TRAINSPOTTING seems trapped inside a hermetically sealed bubble of conjuring up yesterday instead of bursting out of that shell and daring to be its very own subversive original today. 

  H O M E