A needle falls into a familiar groove. The needle hasn’t touched the surface in two decades. The strains of a tune start to play before abruptly stopping. Much of T2 TRAINSPOTTING, Danny Boyle’s reunion of the 1996 cult classic, can be summed up in this moment. While it’s delightful to see the original cast mostly back together, it’s a series of almost greatest hits that never break free of a contrived style.
Once again opening with a seemingly successful Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor) running, a wake-up moment in his life leads him back to his native Scotland 20 years after fleeing with the ill-gotten gains of a final score. Simon “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller) is a low-rent hustler, Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is an escapee from a life sentence in prison and Spud (Ewen Bremmer) is still a junkie. Yet as it becomes evident that Rent Boy’s life is not all it seems, the group chooses a life of crime once again.
What is most surprising about T2 TRAINSPOTTING is how conventional it is. The original still has an immediacy to every moment that propels this group of misfits through the ringer and flushes them out the worst toilet in Scotland screaming lager, lager, lager, lager. For the sequel, Boyle and screenwriter take a road well-travelled, simultaneously mired in the past but constantly reminding us it is now a foreign land for our players.
“Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here,” notes Sick Boy. “You’re a tourist in your own youth,” he adds, and it’s a meta-aware piece of dialogue that they share with the filmmakers and audience alike. Spud recounts the past in halting prose, Begbie lives in it, Renton runs from it and Sick Boy can’t escape it. Even the soundtrack is filled with remixes of the Underworld and Iggy Pop tracks that stood out in the first film, albeit sandwiched between one of the best collection of tunes in a recent film. The obligatory “Choose Life” speech is a microcosm of the whole film, starting as a clever wink to the audience before finding itself in a slightly bitter and nostalgic wallow.
In many ways, this is why T2 TRAINSPOTTING exists, as a chance to revisit a generation-defining film and the sentiments that came with it. Yet it’s a film at war with itself, and genuinely touching moments smack up against the conceit of Boyle’s 21st century photographic styles and bizarre comedic non sequiturs, such as a parodic Raging Spud scene. Which by no means makes this a bad film, just one that forces a comparison to its superior predecessor at every turn.