REVIEW: T2 Trainspotting [2017]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 117 minutes | Release Date: March 31st, 2017 (USA)
Studio: Sony Pictures Releasing / TriStar Pictures
Director(s): Danny Boyle
Writer(s): John Hodge / Irvine Welsh (novels Trainspotting and Porno)

“Friends is just another class of victim”

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) “chose life” twenty years ago—or what he believed was the best chance at having one at the time. This on-again/off-again heroin junkie had just stolen the sixteen thousand pounds he and three friends (Jonny Lee Miller‘s Simon, Ewen Bremner‘s Spud, and Robert Carlyle‘s Begbie) made in a drug deal somehow gone right. His justification: one of the others would do the same he if didn’t first. Unfortunately for Mark, however, that money only got him a reprieve from the self-destructive spiral dragging him down. It got him to Amsterdam where he could find a career and settle down, but no more. It was his responsibility to sustain it and grow. Once he realizes he squandered that opportunity, it’s back to Edinburgh he goes.

You could say he betrayed himself, sentiments that fit well with T2 Trainspotting‘s mantra of betrayal following opportunity. Those boys had the chance to strike it marginally big if they didn’t instantly put the money into their vices—the arm for three and a new criminal endeavor for the hotheaded and in-hiding Begbie. Renton realized he had the chance for more, a clean escape. He took it, betrayed the others, and never looked back. But you can only forget where you come from for so long before it returns in a flood of memories. Their reunion wouldn’t be an easy one, though. Spud would probably be happy to see him (he did get his cut in secret). Sick Boy (Simon) would turnaround. And Begbie, well he’d want blood.

What follow are more opportunities—some good, many bad—and more betrayal. Anyone who knows Trainspotting shouldn’t be surprised, though, since this quartet is nothing if not selfishly inclined to drag the rest down with them or sneakily save their own skin at the price of the others’ freedom. Simon and Begbie have cause for revenge, their motivations fueled by anger. Spud is loyal, his frustration not in Renton stealing but in leaving him behind. And Mark’s return is the most selfish of all. He knows the chaos it will spark and yet does it anyway to assuage his own longing for the past. Is he sorry? No. He seeks catharsis, not forgiveness. They’re all searching for a way to overcome the suffocating regret following them like shadows.

It took director Danny Boyle longer than he’d have liked, but I’m not sure the result could have been any better. The original plan was to stick to a faithful adaptation of author Irvine Welsh‘s Trainspotting follow-up Porno around six years after the first film drew acclaim. But the highly publicized fallout between Boyle and star McGregor (amongst more behind the scenes creative difference squabbles between others) made that impossible. So they waited, bridges mended, and eventually screenwriter John Hodge crafted an original script of his own that took inspiration from Welsh’s novels to extrapolate what a reunion would look like two decades later. What would they be addicted to now? Where would they be? And would any be strong enough to live full lives despite their guilt?

The latter answer is of course no. To simply give these junkies—who reveled in shoving their middle fingers into faces of family, friends, government, and city—a happy ending would be a gross disservice to the original film’s legacy. To grow up in the squalor of a Scottish town like Edinburgh, hidden by its affluent façade, is to constantly be beaten down by a system hoping you’ll fail. Heroin became their escape once sex stopped being enough and the reality of their entrapment sunk in. The world changed enough to move away from the skag, but they’re still the same screw-ups they’ve always been. The difference now is that they’re no longer children. Their actions cannot be chalked up to youth anymore as each bears real consequences.

If the first film showed the tragedy of addiction, poverty, and an angry generation devoid of hope for the future succumbing to it, the second shows the tragic cost that life and their numbness towards its wake wrought. Some of the pain is a direct result of what they did. Some because they ignored what was happening, believing meaning was absent. And some arrives by discovering what was missed because of choices they made. This is the mid-life crisis, the acknowledgement that immortality doesn’t exist even as the demise of their friend Tommy proved it years ago. It’s time to face the memories of those wronged, dead, and dying. It’s time to see they’ve become the exact thing they vowed they wouldn’t. It’s time they understand they’ve lost.

Acceptance is at the heart of T2 as well as the notion of each man forgiving himself. No matter how much they’d love to shift blame, they’re ultimately where they led themselves without assistance. Mark lost twenty years with his parents and a potential love with Diane (Kelly Macdonald). Spud found himself so ill-equipped for normal living that he unwittingly sabotaged the best life any of them could have hoped to lead: one by Gail’s (Shirley Henderson) side with their son Fergus. Begbie neglected the opportunity to be the father/husband to Frank Jr (Scot Greenan) and June (Pauline Turner) his never was, spending decades in jail instead. And Simon kept being Simon, which he’s actually probably okay with. His biggest demon is never seeing what else was possible.

Boyle and Hodge play with nostalgia to reacquaint us with their characters through dialogue-based and visual callbacks (some so blatant that footage from the first film is superimposed atop locales today). For most of the runtime Spud actually writes their stories down, stories to both revel in and regret. The film forces each to face his identity and be provided one last opportunity to make good on the promise their parents possessed before drugs and crime stole them away. Spud and Begbie have people who care about them to show progress while Mark and Simon—like always—find the same target (Anjela Nedyalkova‘s Veronika) to try and win as a prize so they can ignore their shortcomings. But none can escape the deep-seeded grudge that tore them apart.

It’s not as visually inventive as its predecessor because drugs play a very small role and that’s okay. Boyle plays with time and memory more than psychological experience. Overlays and editing represent these better than any new surreal nightmares of withdrawal could. The action is improved, though, with some rousingly hilarious bouts of violence between McGregor and Miller or McGregor and Carlyle. McGregor and Miller also enjoy one of the best bits of fun when they fleece unsuspecting Protestants before devolving into a hallucinatory haze of hyper conversation overload. As far as emotional resonance goes, Bremner unsurprisingly hurts our hearts most. The kicker, though? Carlyle’s Begbie may receive the biggest single emotional release of all—one made more sorrowful in his knowing his family is better without him.

Mark hopes to reconnect. Spud looks to end his misery. Begbie yearns for freedom and revenge. And Simon seeks the next quick fix, financially and socially, with a spot of revenge too. They converge with animosity before some reclaim the love that bonded them years ago. They visit old acquaintances so audiences can enjoy the little things and they memorialize the fallen they’ll never see again. It all works towards a scheme—albeit unwittingly and out of their control—and proves funny, exhilarating, poignant, and relatable for anyone aged enough to look back and wonder, “What if?” The boys hope they’ve learned from the past or at least grown too old to repeat it quite so spectacularly. Thankfully for us they haven’t quite gotten there yet.

[1] SPUD (Ewen Bremner), RENTON (Ewan McGregor), SICK BOY (Jonny Lee Miller) BEGBIE (Robert Carlyle) PHOTO BY: Jaap Buitendijk
[2] Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) striding out of cow barn in TriStar Pictures’ T2 TRAINSPOTTING PHOTO BY: Jaap Buitendijk © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved
[3] Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in toilets at nightclub in TriStar Pictures’ T2 TRAINSPOTTING PHOTO BY: Jaap Buitendijk © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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