REVIEW T2: Trainspotting – Nora Selmani

Nora Selmani is a bilingual babe, feminist killjoy, and Lit graduate based in London. Her principal interest is in gendered diasporic experiences, especially in poetry. She currently co-edits Porridge.

REVIEW T2: Trainspotting

Stirred into action by a near-death experience, a thoroughly beefed-up Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh from his failing life in Amsterdam to reconnect with his brothers in heroin-laden arms.

T2: Trainspotting is the long-awaited sequel to the 1996 breakout Trainspotting, a cinematic tour-de-force which captured the grim disillusionment of the period. Directed by Danny Boyle, it was based on Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name. The protagonists, four young heroin addicts, sardonic and hilariously so, spoke to a restlessness and disappointment that resonated with young adult audiences. With a soundtrack as invigorating now as it was then, it catapulted its leads to rockstar status. For Ewan McGregor the limelight never quite dimmed but his co-stars did not achieve quite the same level of fame.

Now watching T2, one really has to wonder why, given that it is Jonny Lee Miller’s performance as Simon (formerly Sick Boy) which is intoxicating, bringing much-needed charisma to this almost lacklustre reimagining. Now a coke-snorting professional blackmailer, he saves the plot from becoming dangerously twee. Heroin may have had a lot of personality but Lee Miller never lost it. Fans may also find comfort in Mark’s initially messy (quite literally) reunion with Spud (Ewen Bremner) who remains desperately loyal and well-meaning. While we do get some insight into Spud’s life over the past couple of decades, including his estrangement from wife and son, he never quite shakes off the status of bumbling sidekick.

However, Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Robert Carlyle) newly escaped from prison, becomes a violent caricature of every action film ‘baddie’. The few nudges towards nuance and character development come much too late.  It seems a waste. As do the very limited female roles in the film including Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), Simon’s ‘girlfriend’ and accomplice in blackmail who is little more than a sexy young love interest for the big baby men undergoing mid-life crises.

This reunion has been marketed as a rumination on getting older, which in many ways accounts for its visual and narrative choppiness, inconsistent plot, and unnecessary freeze frames which not only serve to illustrate the nature of memory but also act as parallels to the first film. However, these desperate calls to the original are in serious danger of cheapening the cinematic legacy of Trainspotting.  It lacks the gritty glamour of the original because the characters are older you see? Getting older is obviously supposed to be uninteresting and confusing. This explanation has fallacies of its own. For example, why does Mark, who has been clean for 20 years, impulsively turn to heroin with Sick Boy in a scene flooded with lurid colour, while Spud (still struggling with smack) cowers in the corner? Oversights like this in the name of fan service cannot help but seem careless when our memories of the original are at stake.

All that being said, it felt special to be reunited with these characters. The loosely strung-together plot can be forgiven because a love for Trainspotting was never a love for cohesive narrative, it was a love for four lads from Edinburgh trying to navigate a bleak and uninspiring landscape of shite. Crucially, T2 does not alter that narrative.

Rating: ★★★★

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