Upon approaching T2 Trainspotting in the long wake of its decade-defining predecessor, my curiosity about whether or not the film would be any good took a backseat to another, perhaps more important question: would it feel like a Trainspotting movie? The 1996 original’s place in and relationship with the contemporaneous culture has since superseded its identity as a self-contained piece of art, so it is only natural that the style would take priority over quality in the case of the sequel. And truth be told, it makes the notion of a sequel or a reboot all the tougher to pull off.
Twenty-one years and several generational shifts later, there’s really no way that T2 could feel quite like Trainspotting. Here and there, it tries to do so, peppering in frenetic cuts and stylized subtitles as a nostalgic homage to the Gen-X staple to which T2 owes its lifeblood. Some of these instances are fun, while others are too obviously lacking the vivacity and inventiveness that made the same choices so special the first time around. In the thick of one of these episodes, in fact, I began to worry that T2 was going to turn out to be little more than a hollow grab for the inscrutable glory that adorned its forebear at the height of the MTV era.
But somewhere around the middle of the unlikely sequel, in which Ewan McGregor’s sober and sullen Renton returns home to Edinburgh to make amends with old friends
Sick Boy Simon and Spud (though definitely not Begbie), T2 figures out a much better way to uphold the Trainspotting tradition. As it becomes ever clearer to the characters that the past can be neither reclaimed nor revisited. As such, we’re treated to wannabe intellectuals Renton and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) dissecting the modern era the way they did with the old, and thick-headed psychopath Begbie (Robert Carlyle) wrestling with his inability to keep up with the changing tides.
The only one who seems incurably steeped in the same identity is Spud (Ewen Bremner), and he’s the most tragic character for it; meanwhile, Simon’s much younger business partner and would-be girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), who has a significantly larger role in the film than you might expect, stands as the living counterpoint to the antiquated alpha male toxicity by which she’s surrounded on all fronts.
The result of these characters’ slow realization is that they can no longer be what they were in their heyday. T2 actually nears the vitality of Trainspotting, becoming to the world of 2017 what the original was to that of 1996—with all the social media asphyxiation, convoluted gender politics, and prideful racism that 2017 does indeed have to offer. The result of this: a softer, slower, and sadder way about it, one different enough from the Trainspotting aesthetic to put off lifelong fans seeking a swift kick right back to the world they fell in love with at what was likely the apex of their own golden years.
If you’re one of this breed of Trainspotting diehards, I implore you to hold out hope at least long enough to see the surprising gloss of the movie’s lens as not a betrayal, but a natural complement to the original’s grit and grain. The resulting adventure is not without its dry spots—even if by design, some of T2’s more sluggish constructs will really test the mettle of your attention span—but it is as earnest an answer to a film like Trainspotting that the modern day could conceivably draw up. No, it won’t make the same mark on its timeline that its predecessor did on its own… but then again, maybe that’s part of what it’s trying to say.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Images: TriStar Pictures
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist, and a big fan of Lou Reed (though not so much of heroin). Find Michael on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
What will happen in 2017 according to movies?