It is a great credit to Danny Boyle that T2: Trainspotting looks and feels like a logical extension to the film that precedes it. Sequels are often too far removed from the events of the original to be seen as anything more than just another story set in the same place and featuring the same characters with no logical connection to the existing narrative, or they have been so clumsily set-up by the first film that they come across as cynical attempts to cash in on the popularity of the predecessor. This is different because everything that takes place feels real with regard to their circumstances and their relationships with each other. The fact that Doyle has reunited the original cast and the actors have aged to the same point as their characters makes the whole piece remarkably authentic. Picking up the story 20 years after the events of the first film, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh to face the friends from whom he stole £12 000. When we meet Simon/Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremmer) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) again, each is pretty much where we would expect them to be given what we know about their personalities and proclivities.
Simon is running a pub he inherited from his aunt with a blackmail business on the side, Begbie is in jail and Spud continues to battle a heroin addiction that has destroyed his relationship with his family. Seemingly back to confront the demons of his past, Renton’s attempt to make amends by offering Simon his share of the stolen money triggers a tirade of indignation from Simon, but their shared history – explored via a series of flashbacks of them as children and footage from the first film – is too hard to resist and soon enough the pair find themselves concocting another money-making scheme; converting the unused upper floor of the pub into a brothel, a gesture Simon is hoping will secure the favour of his business partner Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Having finagled his way out of prison, Begbie is bristling with rage even before he learns that Renton is back in town and whilst some may see this characterisation as being somewhat over-the-top, you need to hark back to the original film to remember that this is a guy with a moral compass that is broken beyond repair, his only joy coming from inflicting harm on others, whether that be stealing from them, engaging in random acts of extreme violence or, as is the case with his wife and son, subjecting them to verbal abuse. If anything, it is when Boyle and scriptwriter John Hodge (who adapted the screenplay somewhat loosely from Irvine Welsh’s novel Porno), give Begbie a skerrick of humanity with an emotional goodbye to his son that seems out of character; too much so to deliver the effective emotional punch that was perhaps intended.
Boyle draws upon the stylistic tics and visual flourishes of the first film, a style that was much-copied in British crime capers in the years that followed, but nothing that happens here is quite as rapid-fire or extraordinarily unique as the first instalment, but it does deliver the same combination of humour and despair, this time via an examination of middle-age angst, disillusionment and male friendship. One of the few disappointments this time around is the under-use of Kelly McDonald, whose performance as 15-year-old seductress Diane in the first movie launched her career. Shoehorned into the story here as a lawyer whose assistance is sought when Simon’s blackmail scheme goes awry, McDonald’s time on screen is far too short and one can’t help but feel there is still much between her and Renton that subsequently remained unresolved.
Whilst not as energetic as the first film, which is due to the passage of time and the aging of the characters who are, after all, in their mid-40’s. It still packs a punch though and Doyle uses the sorry state of Simon’s pub (lack of customers, crumbling exterior, surrounding buildings levelled) as a not-too-subtle visual lament on the impact of gentrification. In its exploration of friendship and regret, T2: Trainspotting is swathed in pessimism and there is no real sense that the future is likely to offer anything particularly promising to any of them, but you just can’t help but feel as though the friendship between Mark, Spud and Sick Boy will endure through all manner of double-crossings and deceptions, just as long as they can avoid the wrath of Begbie.