Very few sequels have turned out to be better than the films from which they sprang. The ones that come to mind (without me resorting to Google) are “Terminator 2,” “Toy Story 2,” “Aliens,” “The Wrath of Khan,” and “The Road Warrior.” Now add to that list “T2: Trainspotting,” the first sequel made by director Danny Boyle. But although Boyle, along with his semi-regular screenwriter John Hodge, created the great heroin-drenched “Trainspotting” in 1996, and that film was based on the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, this one has relatively nothing to do with Welsh’s sequel novel “Porno.”
“Trainspotting 2” is mostly new territory, except for its main (and a few minor) characters and its actors. Taking place two decades after the first film, which means not only the story but also the actors have aged 20 years, it picks up on the relationships between former heroin-using mates Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewan Bremner), and Sick Boy — now called Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) — and non-druggie, but extremely short-tempered and violent Begbie — now called Franco (Robert Carlyle).
It’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other. One left town after stealing money from the rest, one has been in prison, one has suffered all sorts of bad luck, one has been so miserable, he’s recently been contemplating suicide.
It’s Mark’s return to Edinburgh, where everyone else has remained, that sparks the story, one that’s filled with all sorts of coincidences that inevitably bring the four of them together again. It’s also a film that, if it’s to work with all pistons firing, requires that viewers be familiar with “Trainspotting.” If you’ve seen it, no matter how long ago, you’re set to enjoy this one’s nuances and flashbacks, which range in content and effect from being funny or wistful to being shocking or bittersweet. If you haven’t seen the original, get it from your library first.
“Trainspotting” is a funny film, but its portrayal of what heroin can do to you is disturbing. Most of the guys in the sequel have cleaned up their acts, and there’s some truly funny stuff going on here, too. But life hasn’t treated these guys kindly. Mark’s actions at the end of the first one sent his pals into various tailspins, but even if they’ve gotten over what happened back then, assuming they since had some dreams, they haven’t exactly come true.
It’s the ever-unhinged Franco who’s been locked away all these years, and shortly after Mark’s return to town (for reasons that are eventually explained), the film chronicles Franco’s ingenious, hilarious, and squirm-inducing jailbreak, and his plans to get back to his wife and young boy (who is now, he’s stunned to find out, in college). Simon hasn’t seen the wife who walked out on him, and took their son, for a long time. Spud, who’s still a part-time junkie, and has a wife and kid, has had a bad run involving jobs and life in general. He’s the one thinking about ending it all.
The film is about trying to get by, to come up with new dreams and maybe make them happen. Spud is kind of doing it alone, Franco has no direction, Simon has taken on an accomplice, the beautiful Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), and Mark would like nothing better than to start things over again, as if the mistake he made 20 years ago never happened.
But that’s not to be. There are grudges and accompanying thoughts of revenge in the minds of some of his pals, and the question asked is whether or not those feelings are stronger than old friendships. The question is answered in between bouts of virulent anger and nervous comedy and, as Danny Boyle always manages to do, the addition of a very cool song-filled soundtrack. Yes, the film has a great ending; yes, this is an excellent sequel. But it’s the perfect last-moment placement of a certain Iggy Pop tune, lifted for all the right reasons from the first film, that makes it complete.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
Written by John Hodge; directed by Danny Boyle
With Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller