Here’s a free piece of advice to everyone out there: When the hazmat-suited scientist pushes you roughly into the cryogenics chamber and says, “When do you want to wake up?” Say, “When World Peace is achieved and we all live in a currency-free utopia.”
Don’t say, “When Trainspotting 2 comes out”, as a joke.
Why? Because I awoke groggy and disoriented in a dusty warehouse having “slept” for almost twenty years.
“Hello?” I yelled into the darkness. Nothing.
My only clue was the cracked, blinking screen attached to the xFreeze-C50 chamber.
“T2 Trainspotting. In cinemas tomorrow.”
Taking my seat in the crowded cinema, still wearing my drafty hospital gown I felt only slight relief that this strange world had maintained some continuity from the one I left behind.
“Well, let’s see what this is all about, then.” I mumbled.
“Ssssh”, hissed the woman next to me, spraying me with Maltesers crumbs.
A sequel after such a long time has to answer some serious questions. It has to stand up to more scrutiny than most sequels. “T2 Trainspotting” gets off to a bad start, unfortunately, due to its off-putting title. Am I supposed to read it “Trainspotting 2: Trainspotting” or is there something I’m missing? The subtitle, surely, cannot just be the main title again, can it? Let’s try it with some other titles, shall we?
“HP2 Harry Potter”
“PBMC2 Paul Blart Mall Cop”
“NLCVCEIA2 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure”
No, it doesn’t work. It’s weird and ugly and makes a bad impression. Is the exclusion of colon important? I don’t know.
Anyway, after scaling that hurdle, we are re-introduced to some familiar faces. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), now living in Amsterdam, collapses on a treadmill (much to the dismay of some the least helpful gym members I have ever seen), which spurs on his return to Scotland. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still having trouble kicking heroin, and is now estranged from his partner Gail and their son. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is serving an, apparently lengthy, prison sentence and has had his parole refused. Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) has graduated from heroin to cocaine and blackmail with the help of his “girlfriend”, Veronika.
The film wastes no time getting us up to speed with the characters lives with some necessary exposition that never feels artificial. Then we’re free to get on with main thrust of the story. Mark Renton betrayed Spud, Simon and Begbie at the end of the Trainspotting and must now justify, repay or defend himself for his crimes.
Quite early in the film I started to notice some classic Boyle direction. Danny Boyle has a distinctive style; a peculiar mixture of sensible, well composed shots, interspersed with the augmented reality he uses to illustrate the points he wants to make. The visual effects are used fairly sparingly and are mostly very pleasing to watch. The problem I had was with the freeze frames. Boyle seems to have a preternatural obsession with using freeze frames to either highlight action or smash some emotional power into an image. The most obnoxious examples felt extremely jarring and pulled me right out of my comfortable stupor. They are, at least, not as egregious as the ones in “127 Hours”, the opening scenes of which are peppered with freeze-frames that zoom and rotate into on-screen photos, complete with shutter noise.
Other than that the visual style works really nicely. When Renton is forced to use the stairs to ascend a large tower block, the floors are counted off with large numbers “projected” on the outside of the building. It’s effective at illustrating the point and doesn’t get in the way of the message. The problems are when it occasionally does. The imagery during some of the montages can lead to, “Only God Forgives Syndrome” where the viewer has no way to know whether the things that are happening on the screen are actually happening to the characters or are the visual representation of some inner turmoil. Boyle has suffered from this before, most notably in “Trance” (2013), the plot of which, I could not explain if I were even inclined to revisit those memories. I think there was a heist and maybe time travel. Or am I thinking of that episode of Deep Space Nine where Quark is transformed into a female Ferengi to trick Acting Negus Brunt?
Boyle, it sometimes seems, is at his directorial finest when he’s not doing too much directing. The performances he coaxes from the main cast are excellent. Nothing too over the top, nothing unbelievable, just very human. Spud (Bremner), in particular brings the film to life. His simple, melancholic charm and hapless misfortune make watching him a sad joy. Most of the humour, and there is plenty of it, comes from Spud. His no-nonsense outlook and oxymoronic honest-thief personality simultaneously lighten and darken scenes that could easily have been the slowest in the picture. The times when Mark (McGregor) and Simon (Miller) interact are also extremely entertaining. They have the uneasy chemistry of good friends who really hate each other. That’s what you should be doing, Danny. Not making every other shot a god damned freeze frame.
Having said that, the “Choose Life” scene, updated to include references to social media (for the kids!), was pretty uncomfortable. However, the scene essentially apologises for itself when you realise that the characters are squirming just as much as you.
A few times throughout the film you will see the main characters state themes from the film, out loud to each other. Normally this would be a cardinal sin, but when Mark says “This is a memorial”, during a memorial for Tommy, and Simon replies “No, it’s nostalgia”, we can interpret this as either: The film being aware of the possible pitfalls it must dodge or as a cynical way to evade those traps by simply pointing them out. I think it’s the former. Boyle is a sincere, if inconsistent, filmmaker. However, the film does, occasionally, stray a bit far into nostalgia territory for me to follow. That skull and crossbones with “Danger” written in Ye Olde Timey Font are too much for me. Many scenes from the first film are either recreated, just plain shown to us, or both. The toilet scene is hinted at. The “leaning on the bonnet of a car and then laughing at the driver” (that classic) is both shown and recreated. It gets a little uncomfortable but never goes far enough to be truly bad.
The thing you have to ask yourself when evaluating a film like this is: Am I learning anything new? Are we just spending time with these people or is there an actual story here? This is where things were lacking a little for me. It didn’t really feel like I was coming away having seen the characters learn very much or change in any meaningful way. Not to say the story is bad, it just doesn’t really have a lot of punch. Mark is still selfish, Simon is still a dirt bag, Spud is still adorable and then there is Veronika, Simon’s Bulgarian escort girlfriend. Most of the film revolves around her, she is the driving force for Mark and Simon and yet the film doesn’t really give her that much to do. She is also strangely absent from the posters and promotional material in general. I understand that Anjela Nedyalkova’s name may not be an instant draw for most people but she is central to the plot in many ways.
The ending is pretty ridiculous, too. One of the reasons Trainspotting was such a good story was that it was very contained. It revolved around the world of its characters, there was no international conspiracy driving the action, no imminent alien invasion to avert, it stayed in the world it had established. And that’s not to say that the sequel violates that but the action-packed ending did feel a little out of place.
Talking of the ending (don’t worry, no spoilers), this is where Boyle Style™ can cause problems for itself. Filmmaking is all trickery; sorry to lift the curtain guys but you were bound to find out eventually. Films are just a series of manipulative tricks used by evil men in suits to make you think you felt something so they can take money out of your pockets. The problem that Danny Boyle hits sometimes is you can see the strings glinting in those obnoxiously bright lights he likes so much. This can leave you feeling aware of the manipulation rather than fulfilled during emotional scenes. It hurts the film and it gives the impression that this seasoned and generally good director is still learning the ropes. “Requiem for a Dream” (not a Boyle film), suffered hugely for me because of its overuse of filters, angles and “interesting” shooting techniques. Boyle hits a similar problem that has left me feeling a little unsatisfied.
Overall I really enjoyed “T2 Trainspotting”, it set out to fill some very big shoes and it largely accomplished that. Don’t expect this film to surpass it predecessor and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. You’ll spend time with some characters you loved and see where their lives have taken them and you’ll learn a few new things about them too, although possibly not quite enough. Will I still be thinking about this film in six months? Probably not but I did enjoy the experience while I was cinema, and what more can you ask for?
Now, to collect my belongings from the warehouse and see how my Tamagotchi is doing. A fresh start in a new time. We must almost be living in a utopia free from greed and hunger, right? It’s been twenty years.
Review by Sam Rae
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