The saying you can’t go home again isn’t exactly right. You can go home again, but it won’t be as you remember it and you’ll likely be unable to successfully relive the past. This is certainly the case for Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), the star of Danny Boyle’s 1996 classic Trainspotting, as he returns home to make amends with his mates, from whom he stole a boatload of cash following a drug deal in the previous film’s climax. As this new movie opens, we find Renton running again, but this time on a treadmill. He suffers a heart attack and collapses and we next see him arriving in the Edinburgh airport, ready to face his past.
Boyle’s original film – which was the director’s second and a UK answer to Pulp Fiction – followed the adventures of everyman heroin abuser Renton; his best pal, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), who now goes by Simon; sad, sweet Spud (Ewen Bremner), putting his emotive face to terrific use in this sequel; and psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle, terrifying as ever the second time around). In T2, the drug usage is significantly dialed down – Spud is an on-again, off-again addict, Simon snorts cocaine and Begbie, in one of the picture’s funnier jokes, uses Viagra. However, the film – while itself nostalgic, deftly utilizing footage from the original picture – makes the case that nostalgia can be just as addictive as heroin.
As three of the lads pay a visit to the Scottish hillside during one scene, Simon tells Renton that he is a “tourist in his own youth.” Renton looks back fondly on his past, but Simon is quick to remind him of some of the darker passages of their youth – in response, Renton recalls a particularly harrowing moment for Simon.
And early in the picture when Renton returns to his childhood home, he drops the needle on the record and just as the first licks of “Lust for Life” rev up, he shuts it off. The song plays again near the film’s end, but in a more slowed down version – Underworld’s iconic “Born Slippy” also pops up, but also in a slower mode at several points. In the original film, Renton and his pals had youthful vigor – despite all the drugs they put into their systems – but now, they have slipped into a middle age with little direction and life has worn them down.
After an expected brawl early in the film between Renton and Simon, the two make amends and Mark admits that he is in the middle of a divorce, childless and has flimsy job security. Simon has a Bulgarian girlfriend named Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova) – to whom Mark takes a fancy – but makes his money blackmailing men who sleep with her. His dream is to open a brothel, a scheme into which he ropes Renton and Spud, who nearly commits suicide at the film’s beginning before being saved by Renton.
Meanwhile, Begbie escapes from jail and, upon arriving home, attempts to school his teenage son in the criminal lifestyle, although the boy is more interested in attending college to study hotel management. After tracking down Simon, Begbie plots to find Renton and kill him for betraying him 20 years prior. Kelly Macdonald pops up in a cameo sequence as Diane, Renton’s former girlfriend, but she is now a high powered lawyer, while Shirley Henderson returns for a few scenes as Gail, Spud’s ex-wife, on whose face can be seen the hardship of years spent with a junkie.
All of the actors effortlessly slip back into their characters, although it’s Bremner who is the most effective as Spud, who takes Renton’s advice to channel his addictive behavior into something more productive, so he takes up writing, chronicling the stories from the earlier film that we can expect will turn into the novel Trainspotting.
To get this out of the way – no, T2 is not as good as Trainspotting, most likely due to the fact that lightning rarely strikes twice. However, living up to the first film is a tall order and Boyle’s sort-of sequel is still quite good. The first Trainspotting was a wild, stylish and morbidly funny breakout film by a young filmmaker, while “T2” is a somber and thoughtful follow-up from a director who has put some years on the books. So, I can say without hesitation that, yes, you should most definitely choose T2: Trainspotting.