Set 20 years after the original, and reuniting all of the original players, the film centers on prodigal son Renton (Ewan McGregor), who returns to Edinburgh two decades after ditching his mates and running off with their money. Partially repentant, partially lonely, partially curious about what’s become of his old friends and partially eager to recapture the camaraderie they once enjoyed, Renton seeks out his pals and finds them in varying degrees of struggle. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still hopelessly addicted to smack, holed up in a decrepit apartment and scribbling his “memoirs” on scraps of paper; Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is involved in an array of illegal activities with his girlfriend Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova), including a bizarre blackmail scheme; and violent, vengeful rage-aholic Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who’s recently escaped from prison, has decided to resume his life of crime, dragging his reluctant teenaged son (Scott Greenan) along for the hugely un-fun ride.
Into this chaos walks Renton, and it’s not long before he, Spud and a still-bitter Sick Boy are eye-deep in plans to launch an escort(ish) business while simultaneously trying to keep Begbie at bay. It will surprise no one that their best-laid plans go awry almost from the get-go.
Punctuated by flashbacks to, and reminiscences of, the antics of the first film, T2 feels a bit like flipping through a yearbook at your high school reunion: it’s fun to remember the good times, it’s easy to forget the depths of the hardships, and it’s a bittersweet reminder that everyone has grown older, if not necessarily wiser. Seeing McGregor and company get lost in reveries of their younger selves makes for some of the movie’s most unexpectedly emotional moments, and Boyle does a great job of slipping those comparatively contemplative sequences into the otherwise frenzied proceedings.
And though those proceedings do pay homage to the first film’s wild and crazy energy – due in large part to the filmmakers skilled use of soundtrack and editing – they feel a teeny bit derivative, too... sort of like the aging football player trying to prove he’s still got all the same moves he had as a teen. Rather than organic to the story, they feel added in for the sake of reliving the past. I actually think the film would have worked just as well, if not better, had it embraced a slightly more moderate pace to match the headspace of its key characters.
Speaking of, everyone is back, and all the actors have improved with age. There is a weight and depth to their performances that wasn’t necessarily present (or required, actually) in the first film, befitting their characters’ age and lot in life. Carlyle’s Begbie remains disturbingly visceral, but Boyle wisely gives him one quiet scene that rescues the character from becoming a caricature, and Bremner’s Spud is, hands down, the heart and soul of the entire film. The only actors who don’t fare as well are the women: both Kelly Macdonald and Shirley Henderson reprise their roles from the original, but are left with inconsequential cameos that feel a bit pointless. Too bad, because they’re both great.
In the end, T2 does a decent job of answering the “where are they now?” questions many fans had in the 20 years since Trainspotting turned cinema on its ear. And while those answers are satisfying to some degree, I expect they may leave some audience members still craving another hit.
The Blu-ray features a commentary with director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge, as well as a bunch of deleted scenes, interestingly mostly of Begbie. They don't necessarily add to the film, but flesh out more his poor integration back into society, with him not performing sexually with his woman, to being transfixed late at night to TV games shows, to a subplot that was cut where he broke into his parole officer's house and left him tied up in the basement. But really the gem here is a conversation wth Danny Boyle, Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, and Johnny Lee Miller (only Ewen Bremner is missing). They are all 20 years older, reflecting not only on the original film and characters from 20 years ago, but also on their own lives. The melancholy tone of the film carries through in this conversation, which veers from how different things are from 20 years ago, from filmmaking to technology to music to pop culture. They also posit the perfectly good question: Did Trainspotting invent skinny jeans?