Eternally a stylist, Danny Boyle returns to the primordial ooze that made Danny Boyle Danny Boyle with T2 Trainspotting, a self-reflective reality check of a sequel, one that dwells on past wrongs and potential paths forward, undercut with themes of addiction and redemption. Boyle’s penchant for flash won’t go unnoticed, with the very grain of the film busting with an artist’s eye. Strung out in the kind of manic urban setting that Boyle has mastered over the years, T2 is a somber meditation on regret fused with an upbeat saga of reconciliation, all told with Boyle’s vibrant knack for blaring soundtracks, an escapist kinetic energy and daring visuals. Boyle’s first sequel doesn’t always work, frequent callbacks land with various success, but when T2 is on point, his dizzily dosage of electrifying cinema can be quite inebriating and an unexpected shot to the heart.
T2 opens with the kind of dirty, four-chord punk rock that dominated Britain’s music scene for decades. Iggy Pop leaks “Lust for Life” as Boyle pans through an over-lit workout facility, gym rats working their treadmills, rodents eternally wheeling, to find Mark (Ewan McGregor.) A grin peeled across his face, Mark is a mirror image of his younger self; the shorn, pierced, bag of bones, padding from his past, 16k in cash satcheled across his shoulder. But he’s healthier. Heartier. Older. Suddenly he collapses. He can run no more.
Amongst the most interesting thematic elements racing through T2 are those regarding this reconciliation of past misdeeds, especially in relation to its director and star. After working together in the infancy of both their careers for three films, Boyle and McGregor had an infamous falling out when Boyle dumped McGregor, who was set to star in The Beach, for piping hot rising star Leonardo DiCaprio. An opportunity. A betrayal.
This theme is replicated over and over again through T2. The verbiage itself becoming a pessimistic life mantra: carpe diem… at the expense of those closest to you. As Mark returns to his hometown, an industrial dump in an Edinburgh district desperate to give itself a cultural facelift, the past needles him to submission. To course correct. To apologize. To pay his literal and metaphorical debts. 20 years later is better than never. Ironically (or not), that is the same amount of time Boyle and McGregor went without speaking.
Mark secures a brave face and goes to pasture to bury beef. He finds Spud (Ewen Bremner), eternally the desperate addict and oblong-faced soul of the gang, on death’s door. His head bagged. Farewell note written. No worth in going on living through cycles of desperation and elation, especially when the endorphin kick of H has become but a dull but necessary tap. Mark kicks down the door, saving his friend and damning him to life.
Boyle stirs profundity with dark humor as Spud pukes his guts out, gasps for aim and attacks his savior. Bits of bile fly fast and loose in the whip of gangly arms and wild eyes. Gag-worthy gross, uncomfortably funny and narratively revealing, their reunion reminds one of the great symphony of emotion Boyle was able to elicit with Trainspotting. There’s nothing as soul-shaking as Simon’s dried up infant or hallucinatory and oddly funny as Mark’s toilet escape but the sour and comic notes are similar. Replicating that skill while giving it new shapes and textures, Boyle’s T2 plays a bit like a reunion tour of some great rock band or other; it’s not as good or greatbreaking as it once was but it’s nice to see the gang back, especially when they’re all playing so well together.
One interrupted suicide later, Mark makes his way to Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) who is living a life of scum and villainy, blackmailing businessmen, extorting local goodwill organizations and putting most of his earnings up his nose. Mark and Simon’s reconciliation erupts into a beatdown. 20 years of bottled anger given physical form. The former BFFs make up but forgiveness is not so easy to come by and it proves hard to measure exactly how sincere Simon’s is. Here John Hodge’s script finds it palpable moral center. Unbeknownst to Mark, Simon plots revenge, building up newfound confidence, only to later sink the knife deeper. Betrayal is second nature to these two who plot against each other nonchalantly all the while having a hell of a time palling around. As Mark and Simon fall into old habits, planning a scheme to hoodwink a government program meant to gentrify their neighborhood, proximity breeds genuine affection.
This thread is complicated by Veronika (Angela Nedyalkova), who becomes the fulcrum of a somewhat willing love triangle. The character proves problematic; a deus ex machina in human form. Pivoting between strap-on-sporting madam, good time party girl and literature critic, she plays personal savior to each of the lads and the robust over-characterization is a stretch at times. She brings out the best and the worst in each of our characters, making her effective as a plot devise but relatively useless as a character in and of herself.
Regardless, the boy’s club is as rich as ever. McGregor offers some of his finest work returning as Mark while Miller and Bremner make us question why they are largely absent from the larger film scene. As T2 catches up with its merry band of skag-shooters, each of these characters have drifted towards nothingness. But there’s one of the gang motivated to extreme ends – Robert Carlyle’s fiery Mark Begbie. With a fuse as long as a fingernail, Begbie escapes prison and hunts down the man who betrayed him so many years ago, Mark. Boyle stages a brilliant accidental club showdown between the former friends that transforms from amusing tableau into a heart-pounding footrace, showcasing his energetic wit and crafty staging both.
That which has kept Mark alive and running for all these years has simply run out of fumes but his deficiency becomes Boyle’s entrance point. As Mark’s existential crisis wavers, Spud becomes the unlikely narrator of this epitaph and redemption itself becomes curiously shaped, offering new paths for each of these characters, each of whom gets a worthy catch-up and a meaningful farewell. But then again, who knows. Maybe we’ll hang out with these fellas again in another 20 years. Perhaps Boyle has found his very own Before Trilogy. I do hope so as 65-year old versions of ex-heroin addicts seems like the best recipe for retiree comedy I’ve yet heard of.
CONCLUSION: Like a shot of cinema to the main vein, ‘T2 Trainspotting’ is a lively and thoughtful companion piece to Boyle’s darkly comedic addiction saga. Choose strong performances, choose a rocking playlist, choose intoxicating visual flair. Even if ‘T2’ fails to completely justify its existence, it in no way feels like a betrayal to its predecessor or its characters and offers an oft inebriating glance at modernity.