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T2 Trainspotting was a film that was over 20 years in the making, a sequel to one of the Great British films of the ’90s, reuniting its director, screenwriter and cast to loosely adapt the Irvine Welsh follow-up novel Porno.
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) had been living in Amsterdam after stealing £16,000 from his friends during a big drug deal. He returns to Edinburgh to make amends with his old friends who have gone their separate ways. Simon/Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) works with an Eastern European prostitute, Veronika (Anjela Nevalkova) to blackmail her wealthy clients while Spud (Ewen Bremmer) is still addicted to heroin and is estranged from his wife and son. Simon wants to get revenge for Mark’s betrayal 20-years-ago and Spud attempts to get clean. However, all three face the threat of the volatile Frank Begbie (Robert Carlyle) who has escaped from prison.
The big fear regarding this sequel was it was simply going to be a repeat of the 1996 original. The trailer did not dispel these fears that made it a highlight reel of Trainspotting. Fortunately, T2 Trainspotting was more a continuation of the story rather than a repeat. There are flashbacks and references to the original but thematically, it is different. Mark has moved on with his life but the rest of the crew haven’t. Simon is a swindler, Spud is an addict and Frank is just a thug. The only thing that has changed about them is they are no longer called by their nicknames. Although the characters have been reflective in their middle age.
The original film was centered around Renton, most of it was told from his point-of-view while the sequel is more an ensemble piece, looking more in-depth into the lives of Spud, Simon and Frank – Spud is trying to do right by his son leading to one of the most disgusting suicide attempts put to film, Simon wants to start up his own erotic business so he can keep his girlfriend and Frank tries to rope his son into a life of crime despite Frank Jr. having more middle-class aspirations. For a long period Frank has no interactions with the main crew.
T2 Trainspotting focused on Mark and Simon’s rekindled friendship, a ploy by Simon to get revenge and work in robbing and scamming and work together with converting a rundown pub into a brothel. After an initial confrontation in the pub the two do relive their old lives, one of the highlights being the pair stealing from a Unionist workings man club and have to sectarian songs to get out of there alive. As the film progresses Mark slowly gets more invested in the project and they are essentially reliving their glory days. Yet they are both drawn towards the young Veronika which is a potential thorn in their friendship.
Because of the film’s focus on Mark, Simon and Frank, Spud gets ignored for the majority of the run time: his main actions are his suicide attempt, a failed boxing lesson, help converting the pub and becoming the crew’s chronicler. There is a logic that he was sidelined because a drug addict in his 40s would be ignored by the majority of society, but he should have had more to do in the film.
McGregor famously had a falling out with Danny Boyle because of the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach instead of Boyle’s regular star. That they have buried the hatchet and out of all the characters Mark has mellowed out and aged the best. McGregor was outshone by his co-stars, Carlyle had the fun of being the violent psychopath while Miller had some moments of visual comedy like being handed a sex toy and bleaching his hair. McGregor is fine in his role but Mark’s change from self-interested scumbag to overly reflective middle age man is much less interesting.
The original film had a budget of about £1.5 million, T2 Trainspotting budget was $18 Million. Even if inflation and the currency exchange weren’t an issue, T2 Trainspotting still had a massive increase in its budget. T2 Trainspotting was actually filmed in Edinburgh, the original was mostly shot in Glasgow and London and there was an emphasis on the change in the city like the new tram system and that the city had been gentrified although the areas Simon and Spud live in have not received this treatment. Other changes in Edinburgh include an increase in Eastern European migrants in the city: when Mark steps out of the airport he is welcomed by a Slovenian woman in a tartan skirt promoting the city.
Due to the sequel having a bigger budget it seemed like Danny Boyle was obligated to make all his famous flashes and tricks, even when he didn’t need to. The worst examples being after a successful heist Mark and Simon talk about when the famous soccer player George Best played for Hibernian and the footage is superimposed on a moving car, leading to fantasy sequences where Simon’s flat turns into a soccer stadium. A smaller moment that is really a piece of excessive special effects was when Spud reveals he has the ability to forge signatures and there is a visual representation with Spud writing in the air. The old adage in filmmaking is show-don’t-tell but it was a small example of taking this principle too far and it was just self-indulgent from Boyle.
One of Trainspotting‘s pleasures was its dark humor and T2 keeps this as characters commit crimes. Frank gets some of the biggest laughs, whether it’s a self-imposed injury so he can escape from prison to getting his son involved in a life of crime. Spud’s aforementioned suicide attempt shows the thin line between comedy and tragedy and it plays a little like a similar scene in The Full Monty. Screenwriter John Hodge keeps Irvine Welsh’s quick-witted dialogue, allowing for some funny exchanges: one of the best being when Mark and Simon have to face-off against a local gangster.
T2 Trainspotting is a film for fans of the original, a reunion of the characters that they were intrigued by. A sequel to Trainspotting was strictly necessary and it could have easily have been a disaster. Fortunately for T2 it kept its cast and creative team and made the film a look at the next chapter in Renton, Sick Boy, Stud and Begbie’s lives. But it is one of Danny Boyle’s weaker films.