‘T2 Trainspotting’ is flawed, but fans will get their fix
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: John Hodge
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, and Robert Carlyle
“T2 Trainspotting” – “It felt just like coming home.” – Ewan McGregor
In a recent group interview with the Phoenix Film Festival and other entertainment outlets, McGregor expressed his feelings about the “Trainspotting” (1996) cast returning to Scotland to film their much anticipated sequel, “T2 Trainspotting”.
Of course, the original movie – about a group of friends loitering in the game of life – is edgy and highly entertaining, and it still resonates with audiences everywhere. These friends are Renton (McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who – in the film’s third act – complete a drug deal for 16,000 pounds. Under the tremendous weight of the group’s incredible dysfunction and a desire to get away from it all, Renton flees with the cash (sans 4,000 pounds, which he left for Spud) with an assumption that he would never return to Edinburgh.
In the new film, McGregor’s aforementioned “coming home” comment completely fits for his character too, because Renton returns to Edinburgh after 20 years. After two decades, Simon (aka Sick Boy), Spud and Begbie’s life trajectories did not earn them riches or fame.
Far from it.
Even worse, the three are struggling in very different ways, and none of them are enjoying happy lives.
Far from it.
The three also have not forgotten Renton’s getaway, and – at least initially – time does not heal all wounds.
Far from it.
Now, Renton rides into town on a collision course to face his past, and director Danny Boyle channels his past to deliver a new story about these four men, who are now middle-aged and emotionally scarred by the cruel reality of bad decisions and Father Time. Renton attempts to make amends with Simon and Spud, while avoiding, avoiding, avoiding Begbie – a violent psycho – at all costs.
Visually, the picture works very well. Boyle employs a slick flair, peppered with eye-popping moments and beautiful touches. Some showcase Edinburgh, almost a love letter to it, including Old Town, Scottish Parliament and a gorgeous shot atop Arthur’s Seat overlooking the city. Others include daydream sequences and special effects, such as the unexpected sight of numbered floors from an elevator flashing on the outside of an apartment building. Add various moments of visceral violence, and this feels like a “Trainspotting” film.
Not only does it feel like a “Trainspotting” film, but the four leads easily fall back into their characters. It is as though McGregor, Miller, Bremner, and Carlyle took no other film roles over the last 20 years and specifically saved themselves for this picture. For fans, observing these men stepping into their characters again is a joyous miracle, like witnessing the Loch Ness Monster jump ashore and sing Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out”. Rather than delve into how each character has changed physically and emotionally, those nuisances should be saved for the big screen. Although, I will add that heroin use plays a very minimal part in this 2017 picture, but other seedy ill-gotten gains “thankfully” fill the void.
Speaking of voids, as far as the story itself, “T2 Trainspotting” – unfortunately - does not seem to have much of a point. Now, the picture does offer insightful thoughts on the magnetic power of friendship. In reaching that end, however, the movie seems to navigate from one set piece to the next, without much connective tissue.
For instance, Spud develops a penchant for writing by scribbling short stories on scrap pieces of paper, but his arc hardly ties into the overall picture. Sure, it connects to some extent and seeing Spud apply positive initiative is terrific, but he could have taken up scuba diving or become a master at Sudoku, and it would not have made much difference.
Now, make no mistake, Boyle and the gang do offer wonderful set pieces. One in particular has Renton and Simon caught in a thorny circumstance in front of a potentially very hostile crowd that will absolutely blow the movie house down. Like a greedy junkie, I wanted to experience more of these moments, but did not see enough. Additionally, while waiting for the inevitable confrontation between Renton and Begbie, the second half of the picture stalls in parts and a serious plot hole – to gather all four men together at the movie’s climax – exists.
“T2 Trainspotting” is a flawed, imperfect film. It’s spotty with its pacing and does not contain enough highs (pardon the pun).
On the other hand, from a fan’s perspective, each moment is a pleasurable opportunity to absorb every word and every action from four celebrated antiheroes, or at least one antihero and three misguided others. Perhaps, that’s the point. This is a movie for the fans, with many, many references and nods to the first film and some very enjoyable surprises. Coming home may not be as thrilling as the first go-round in life, but nonetheless, it can be satisfying.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.