Both his duffel bag and conscience were lighter than intended, with £4,000 waiting in a locker for sweet, stupid Spud, and for the first time, a future in widescreen – not necessarily constrained by drugs or deadbeat friends or hometown blues. Renton’s three-quarter-assed duplicity could mean an honest life thereafter. Or it could mean a further two weeks of drug-fueled folly capped off by a toe tag. It was the ending “Trainspotting” required, not just for its antihero, but also for director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge to give audiences a chance to decompress, to make their own sense of the madness they’d just been a party to.
It also meant that a potential sequel would have to offer up a damn good reason to reunite Renton and his ex-friends – and us.
“T2 Trainspotting” never quite pinpoints that reason, never evokes any real pangs of nostalgia despite directly commenting on the very idea. Its primary function is as a vehicle for Danny Boyle to Danny Boyle all over the place. Frenzied editing, lurid imagery, and sharp narrative turns (all rightfully beloved hallmarks of the “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Steve Jobs” filmmaker) are too much here, overshadowing the reason anyone would be up for a “Trainspotting” sequel in the first place – the characters.
As the film opens, Renton is still running, running, running until he can’t anymore. The now forty-something literally falls off a treadmill, a laughably loud metaphor for what’s to follow. Although he’s clean and living a relatively normal life in the Netherlands, unseen domestic problems finally allow his past the jump on him. He returns to Edinburgh to repay Sick Boy, his erstwhile best friend who’s still understandably upset about Renton’s betrayal. This sets into motion some good (at long last clearing Spud of his druggie demons), some bad (a volatile friendship rekindled), and some very ugly (Franco, a prison fugitive, dreaming of Renton’s comeuppance).
About as loosely based on Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting follow-up Porno as the original film was based on the original novel, Boyle and Hodge imbue the picture with a familiar but far less graceful kind of tonal whiplash. As the duo trace their fearsome foursome through the turning over of new leaves and the return of some old ones, the film episodically, clumsily attempts to mirror its predecessor. What’s at first a bit of rambunctious fun reaches its nadir in the form of a groanworthy love story between Renton and Sick Boy’s prostitute girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova).
The purpose of their dalliance on the part of Hodge’s screenplay is twofold: One, to lend an air of believability to Renton and Sick Boy’s plan to start a brothel. Two, to allow Renton a reprisal of his famous “Choose Life” monologue. The scene is the worst kind of nostalgia play, further marred by wonky dubbing and the sense that it was written at least five years ago. Every other word seems outdated as it rolls off McGregor’s tongue.
The characters’ respective stations in life mostly make sense (Spud’s difficulties provide the film with its emotional throughline; Sick Boy’s scummy professional life feels authentic), but Franco’s is a bust. With his storyline not connecting to Renton’s for over an hour, he often seems as though he’s not just in a different film, but a different universe. His relatively cozy life as a prison escapee suggests that Scottish fugitives live comfortable lives at home, where the authorities would never think to look. It’s this kind of narrative crosstalk that consistently belies the intelligence of the original film.
Fatefully, the picture’s best scene comes when Renton and Franco finally come together, sort of, in adjacent bathroom stalls. It’s a brilliantly funny, harrowing moment that serves as a perfect representation of how scattershot and less than the sum of its parts the whole enterprise is.
A film that was surely a joy to make is only intermittently one to watch, its ear-splitting soundtrack intrusive in a way the original’s never was. A surprisingly dark climax marked with hilariously overwrought lighting is everything to love and hate about “T2 Trainspotting” – and Danny Boyle – all at once. Twenty years on from the filmmaker and cast’s first big score, they try with all their might to recapture that old magic whilst saying something new. They do a little of both, but not nearly enough, likely cementing Boyle’s previous averseness to sequels.
Should life provide you two hours to spend with Renton and company, choose “Trainspotting.”
Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)
Release Date: March 17, 2017 (Limited)
Studio: TriStar Pictures (Sony)
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenwriter: John Hodge
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald
MPAA Rating: R (for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence)