MOVIE REVIEW: T2 Trainspotting

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To everyone who has seen “Trainspotting,” let’s ask the most obvious question right up front.  How in the fuck are these characters still alive?!  One drub rehab website tells me rampant heroin addicts like “Rent Boy,” “Spud,” “Sick Boy,” and “Franco” should be dead by now.  Not a chance of that in “T2 Trainspotting” with those tough bastards.  Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle brings us back to our favorite non-gentrified parts of Edinburgh for a spirited sequel to his landmark sophomore feature.

Twenty years have passed since Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) walked over the Waterloo Bridge in London while Underworld’s “Born Slippy (NUXX)” played us into the credits.  He chose to bail on his closest childhood friends with £16,000 pounds of their money, less a £4,000 dividend he secretly shared with Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner) on his way out.  Mark fled to Amsterdam, got off the scag, channeled his addiction into physical fitness, and used the money to clean up his life, giving this kinetic film a literal running start.

He returns to Scotland for the first time since that fateful decision in hopes of burying the hatchet and reconnecting with his old mates.  The hot-tempered and moustached Francis “Franco” Bigbie (Robert Carlyle) burns with hate serving a 25-year prison sentence while everyone else goes on with life on the outside.  Spud remains a struggling addict and lives as a slum hermit separated from his lover and son.  Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller) has switched to cocaine, runs the Port Sunshine Pub bequeathed to him by his aunt, and rigs blackmail scams on the side with his brothel girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova).  

No one is exactly living it up.  Mark arrives to find his old haunts, familiar triggers, and very different reactions and circumstances.  His reappearance on the scene in Edinburgh occurs at the same time Franco has escaped from prison, setting off a collision course neither man is ready for or know is coming.  

Stylistically, Danny Boyle brings his own refined panache back to Irvine Welsh’s topical Scottish underworld without losing a beat.  Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, a six-time Boyle collaborator, cycles through askew camera angle choices twisting through the outstanding location scouting and recreated interiors of production designers Patrick Rolfe and Mark Tildesley.  Whispered cues of the original film’s hit soundtrack return in reprise alongside a carefully curated tracklist of new musical grooves.  Boyle sharpens all of the right artistic knives to have “T2” maintain a very sharp cinematic edge.

The result is a caustic and hilarious stew of vengeance and chicanery that exudes plenty of nostalgia.  Being older, but not necessarily wiser, has thinned a noticeable amount of the ferocity of the biting social commentary and dark humor that spills out of Welsh’s characters and John Hodge’s screenplay.  Fans of the original may be minorly disappointed by this reunion until they look in the mirror and see how their own aged eyes for thrills have changed in the same 20 year timespan.  There was never going to be a way for this sequel to pulsate like the original.  This was the right way to age both the narrative and the energy.

The same can be said for the now-seasoned actors portraying the returning favorites.  Their bodies may have softened, but not their balls.  Don’t get me wrong, the four leads are still playing sad fuck-ups, the whole lot of them.  In stirringly entertaining fashion, each actor finds a way to surprise us with flashes of maturity, gumption, profundity, sentiment, and even flat-out heart.  Not all of those shades work swimmingly, but those new literal and figurative wrinkles do bloom colorful characterizations out of their usual desperation caked in black-hearted melancholic emptiness.

LESSON #1: KIDS, DON’T DO DRUGS-- “T2” could carry the subtitle “How Does an Addict Grow Up?” and be soberingly accurate.  If anyone needed an after-school special case study of what you and your brain might look like when you’re older after doing oodles of recreational drugs for 20+ years, they could give this film a spin and watch the messes that are Simon and Spud.  Sorry Mark, but choose life instead of heroin.  

LESSON #2: WE ALL GET OLD-- In the first film, Simon mused on the trajectory of life to say “we all get old, can’t hack it anymore, and that’s it.”  It was beautifully illustrated then and felt like a million years from being possible.  Two decades have gone by and the sequel arrives to challenge the presumption of fate voiced by the last “that’s it” piece of that mantra.  Age may slow the body rapidly, but it has a harder time slowing one’s spirit.  The men of “T2” prove that the proverbial “lust of life” is harder to kill.  

LESSON #3: KEEP GOING-- In the first film’s darkest moment of loss, the emotional push was to “keep on going” because there is never enough.  Twirling out of the spirit of Lesson #2 is the never-ending quest for fulfillment that continues to drive the sequel.  The characters are still up to their cockamamie criminal schemes for money when what they are really after is vitality and escapism, two addictions that are just as powerful as drugs.  It’s not just a want.  It’s a need.