3 February 2017

T2 Trainspotting review

It's weird that we don't talk about Danny Boyle more often. Few directors can boast a filmography as varied and consistently interesting as his, and yet in the grand scheme of things he's completely under-appreciated, only really taken note of when he's set to release a new film. Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Steve Jobs all showcase his many talents as a director - and now T2 Trainspotting can be added to that list, the long-awaited sequel to potentially his most well-regarded film and one that (thankfully) doesn't disappoint.

It's been twenty years since Renton ran off with the £16,000 at the end of Trainspotting, but when T2 Trainspotting starts not a lot has really changed. Our characters are older now, but they're still very much the same people they were two decades ago - Renton is still an addict, albeit to exercise rather than heroin; Sick Boy is still a schemer, coming up with any number of get rich quick schemes that ultimately fall apart; Spud is still a junkie, unable to get his life on track; Begbie is still very much Begbie, only made more bitter by his time in prison. That lack of development between films is very much deliberate - these characters are incapable of meaningful change thanks to their inability to let go of the past, whether that be through regret (Renton), anger (Sick Boy and Begbie) or just a vague sense that things were better back then (Spud).

This theme of living in the past is present throughout T2 Trainspotting, holding the film together in much the same way that the theme of addiction held its predecessor together. Like Trainspotting, T2 Trainspotting is almost entirely bereft of actual plot until it nears its end - its only here that the trailers' promise of "Begbie is free from prison and out for revenge" comes to fruition, helping to conclude the film in a way that is satisfying both thematically and narratively. The rest of the film is every bit as unburdened by structure as Trainspotting was, attempting to recapture the energy of the first film and mostly succeeding.

I say "mostly" because there are times - mere moments, really - when T2 Trainspotting does feel like a group of men going through something akin to a mid-life crisis, and not just within the confines of the film. Stylistically, T2 Trainspotting has a lot in common with Trainspotting, but occasionally the freeze frames, music cues and surreal imagery offered here feel inorganic, a shallow replication of the anarchic spirit of the first film rather than a true recreation. It's fleeting, but this sense of "been there, done that" definitely rears its head from time to time, a problem only confounded by what could be considered a few too many callbacks to the original.

Then again, maybe that's deliberate. It would certainly be an appropriately meta way to reinforce the themes that T2 Trainspotting is exploring, and it would be hard to argue that this "flaw" - if it even is a flaw - does much, if anything, to detract from T2 Trainspotting overall. It's only right that a film all about the addictive and damaging nature of nostalgia itself succumbs to it at points, only adding to the reflective, melancholic undertone that helps make T2 Trainspotting more emotionally resonant than its predecessor. Trainspotting is a film defined by the vitality of youth, care-free and certain that everything will turn out OK in the end; T2 Trainspotting is older, wiser, capable of recognising that its best years may well be behind it.

I don't know how fans of the original will react to T2 Trainspotting - part of me imagines that opinions will be split based on how much of a sacred cow they consider Trainspotting to be - but as far as I'm concerned, T2 Trainspotting is an ideal follow-up to a film so influential and iconic that a sequel seemed genuinely impossible to pull off successfully. It's not a perfect film by any means, but it is a rare example of a movie greater than the sum of its parts - and when those individual parts are as good as these, it makes for a damn fine film indeed.

4 stars

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