‘T2 Trainspotting’ Review: Hey Kids, Don’t Do Nostalgia

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TriStar Pictures

It’s been 21 years since Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) chose life. The young addict ran off with a bag full of drug money, screwed over his best friends, and kissed his junkie lifestyle goodbye at the end of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. In today’s sequel and reboot-obsessed movie industry, it only makes sense to catch up with the Trainspotting gang in the present day and see how maturity has (or hasn’t) changed them. But just as any reunion among old friends revolves around the past, T2 Trainspotting is stuck reliving the glory days.

In the first of many visual nods to the 1996 original, Boyle’s sequel opens with the 46-year-old Mark running, only this time on a gym treadmill. Mark started over in Amsterdam, but his past still plagues him, quite literally, when he suffers a cardiac episode and falls off the treadmill. After he returns home to Edinburgh to see a doctor and stop by his parents’ house, the former addict drops by Spud’s (Ewen Bremner) just in time to save him from a nasty suicide.

T2 feels exceptionally bleak in its opening minutes. The thrill of youthful recklessness has turned into a lifelong battle with addiction and depression for Spud. Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who now goes by Francis and is serving time in prison, is more bitter and terrifying than ever. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), who also goes by his first name, Simon, is still a swindling prankster who earns a living blackmailing politicians and running his aunt’s old pub. Eventually Mark helps Spud through sobriety, while Sick Boy starts a business, albeit an illegal one. With this setup, T2 should have been an opportunity for the old gang to finally learn from their mistakes and move forward. How interesting, I thought, that Boyle no longer wanted to glorify drug-fueled delinquency. A meditation on aging and addiction sounded like a thoughtful (if less exhilarating) spin on the original movie. But that’s far from the case, and T2 quickly casts its eyes towards the past as the former friends indulge in their bad habits all over again.

There’s nothing entirely wrong with rehashing the same mischief of the original film; after all, what’s the fun in watching a bunch of wild addicts stay sober and act like responsible adults for two hours? But the problem is T2 has nothing to say, and instead coasts entirely on nostalgia. After the first 20 minutes, the movie spends most of its time recreating the original film. Much of the plot revolves around Begbie’s decades-long grudge over Mark’s betrayal. Kelly Macdonald shows up for a brief and irrelevant cameo, and McGregor jumps into an updated “Choose Life” monologue that plays like forced fan service.

Boyle’s style also mimics the original to such a degree that T2 feels like little more than a decent cover song. There’s multiple random freeze-frames, reused old (and some previously unseen) footage from the first movie, and multiple visual nods that directly reference the original – even the ending recreates an iconic scene. It’s a retread as lost and aimless as a former junkie stuck in a mid-life crisis. Watching these characters get high isn’t fun anymore; it’s sad and pitiful.

T2 does have some lively, enjoyable moments thanks to McGregor and Miller’s fervid onscreen chemistry. In one scene Mark and Sick Boy sneak into a religious cult to snatch the members’ credit cards before getting roped into a ridiculous sing-a-long. The pub brawls are exceptionally wild and brutal, and the soundtrack adds a needed kick of adrenaline – though the music cues aren’t nearly as sharp as the first time around. But the best part of T2 is Bremner’s Spud. He was always the goofiest and most likable guy of the bunch, but the aggressive machismo of the original often overshadowed the naiveté and childlike sense of humor he brought to the friend group. Here Bremner is the film’s MVP and Spud finally gets to shine as the most developed character with the most emotional storyline.

Looking to the past to reminisce about good times can be a means of moving forward, but Boyle’s film isn’t interested in growing up. This derivative sequel might please devoted fans looking for a quick fix of nostalgia, but with nothing new to say, it seems not even Boyle and his cast are sure why T2 Trainspotting exists. Who wants to watch the band get back together to play rusty renditions of old hits when you can watch the original anyway?

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