The proliferation of sequels, reboots and franchise films that has dominated the world box-office in recent times is, in Benny Profane’s view, emblematic of a broader backward-looking tendency in the consumer-class these days. Now, here he is to ruin Trainspotting 2…
What greater example of today’s over-indulgence in nostalgic cultural tokens could there be than the imminent reformation of Bros – I mean fucking BROS!
This fixation with what-went-before has resulted in the resurrection of numerous celluloid zombies such as Vin Diesel’s XXX series, the Star Wars universe and the soon-to-be revisited Power Rangers franchise. (Is nothing sacred?)
However, when the news broke that Danny Boyle was planning a sequel to 1996’s generation-defining Trainspotting, along with the entire original cast and creative team; it produced a swoon of excitement in even the most sceptical observers and left fans around the world pinning for the chance to become reacquainted with their favourite skag boys.
Surely such an endeavour would only be attempted under the strict regulation that it doesn’t glorify, bastardise and generally live-off the memory of the original. Right? Right?
T2: Trainspotting follows seminal junkie poster-boy Mark Renton (aka Rents aka Rent Boy aka Ewan McGregor) as he returns to his home city having spent the previous 20 years as an obedient capitalist drone in a financial office in Amsterdam. The first 40mins of T2 is spent reintroducing us to the motley crew and basically catching us and Mark up on the goings-on of the intervening 20 years. In terms of the main characters not much has changed; Spud is still a junkie, Simon swapped heroin for cocaine and is operating a slimy extortion racket out of his auntie’s pub, and friendly neighbourhood psychopath Begbie has been in prison.
The city however has cleaned up its act nicely. Everywhere the camera falls we are treated to sleek coffee shops, glitzy bar interiors and a predominance of glass and light that seems to be Boyle’s visual epitome of gentrification. The changing face of the city is cleverly juxtaposed with the relatively stagnant lives of Renton et al.
Having reluctantly touched base with his old compadres Renton diligently goes about trying to correct the betrayal that concluded the original film by assisting first in Spud’s rehabilitation and then in Simon’s covert money-making schemes; all the while a newly liberated Begbie tries to rejuvenate his old criminal career and hunt down the friend who swindled him all those years ago.
Catching-up and aimless criminal endeavours aside, T2 really feels the lack of a Mcguffin that might thrust the film forward; as a consequence it includes numerous seemingly innocuous scenes that feel more like filler as opposed to real substance. Scenes such as the one where Renton and Simon visit a unionist dance hall in order to rob the clientele and which ends in a puzzling and cringe-worthy rendition of an improvised sectarian ditty. The eventual punch-line of this lightly humorous interlude is clever enough but the pain involved in getting there was hardly worth it.
The original Trainspotting was also devoid of any over-all narrative but it managed to be carried along by its own energy and stylishness and was bolstered by a few highly imaginative and very memorable set-pieces that trump anything Boyle has done since.
T2 repeatedly refers back to T1 (yes I’m gonna call it T1 now) via visual cues, snippets of songs associated with the original or through full-blown regurgitation of scenes and moments. The film wrestles awkwardly with the subject of its own legacy and ultimately offers nothing new that an audience can go away with. Even the now legendary “Choose life” speech is updated in a manner that feels like a betrayal of the nihilistic integrity of the original; this time when McGregor delivers his tirade against modern life it sounds preachy and forced and self-righteous in a way that contradicts the tone of Welsh’s original text.
Welsh himself is not cleared of complicity in the pilfering of his own creation appearing as he does in a needless and frankly sycophantic cameo that probably seemed head-scratchingly odd to anyone not in on the joke. Also the menace and wrath of Begbie that was portrayed with a certain amount of nuance and subtlety in the original (the cigarette-lighting scene near the end comes to mind) is here transformed into a type of pantomime or cartoon anger that feels too much like a caricature and not enough like a portrait.
The first Trainspotting somewhat cynically offered a hyper-stylised and easily consumable representation of junkie lifestyle in a manner that was completely at odds with the anti-consumerist tone of the novel but was never-the-less an extremely enjoyable and entertaining film that at least captured the frenetic energy of Welsh’s writing. T2 on the other hand does not even have the merit of originality or inventiveness; and ultimately it felt like just another cashing-in sequel.