T2 Trainspotting has returned to the station after a twenty year absence, carrying with it all the world-weary baggage of its predecessor. It’s a more sombre affair, the gang disbanded and silently plotting against each other, bereft of the persistent energy that made the original so enthralling. In a way, this is the most sensible choice returning director Danny Boyle could make in tackling the sequel of such a beloved British classic: the film isn’t replicating the frantic highs and lows of life as heroin addicts, but rather looking back to those times through the context of middle-aged mundanity. By focusing on nostalgia, and its effect on our four central characters, Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), Boyle provides a self-referential wink to an entire generation that remembers its parent film fondly. Boyle knows that he has no hope in reproducing the original’s ground-breaking tone or infrastructure, so he approaches T2 Trainspotting with a rich cynicism and melancholy that proves the whole film’s existence worth-while.
Still, the film is a frustrating one. While its exploration of the past and of reminiscing is riveting, Boyle crams in many other themes and threadbare plotlines with limited success. A half-hearted attempt to build on Begbie’s crazed demeanour by involving his family feels like a first draft, and Spud, lovable though he may be, doesn’t quite crack it as the Irvine Welsh-in-training the film wants us to so readily accept.
And while Boyle showcases the spine necessary to take on the sequel, the film itself is in dire need of a narrative one. The plot meanders under the shadow of half-baked ideas, before devolving into an oddly clichéd final set piece. Of course, the story is hardly important considering T2 Trainspotting is essentially a four-part character study, but the lack of breathing room for a narrative drive results in a sequel full of incredible moments (The ‘Choose Life’ scene is as good as, if not better than what it’s trying to memorialise) that don’t quite add up to the sum of their parts. Though it must be said, in the context of a character study, the film captures the emotions and mannerisms of each character perfectly, even after twenty years.
Visually, T2 Trainspotting is interesting and often exciting, overloaded with flash and flair, though largely as a detriment. Boyle’s familiarly dynamic approach is contradictory to the film’s ennui, where the many, many stylistic techniques prove distracting, leaving the audience unable to pin down a particular tone. It’s a confused film, a patchwork of sentimental ideas and styles messily executed, but also a brave one, confronting the past through four wonderfully realised characters, rather than replicating it.