So, I just watched T2: Trainspotting.
(Side note: what’s with that title?)
Was it good? Yes. Was it as good as the original Trainspotting? No, of course not. But do we really have to compare the two? Yes, because this is exactly the kind of movie that invites that comparison.
T2 is the most sequelly sequel that ever sequelled. It is not really a movie in its own right, but rather something of an afterword to the original. The first act begins quite independent of its predecessor, and gets progressively more nostalgic as time goes on. And let me be the first to say that I love Trainspotting. If it’s not my absolute favorite movie it’s at least in my top five. So while I was excited to see T2, a movie I’ve been anticipating for years, I also knew not to expect too much lest I be let down. So I will first say that, despite my doubts, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s well-written, well-acted, with nice cinematography and editing in the way that makes Danny Boyle’s films distinctive and strong. Where the movie goes wrong is depending too much on its parent.
Everything in the world is different, but nothing much has changed for these men. Twenty years after the events of the first Trainspotting, Mark Renton returns to Edinburgh to visit his father and the old friends he once screwed over. Begbie, Sick Boy (though he goes by Simon now), and Spud have all let their lives stagnate in various ways, and each look to Mark’s act of betrayal at the end of the first movie as the main reason why their lives have gone to shit. This is unfair, of course; what Mark did was an absolute dick move but it can’t really be to blame for everything. Begbie was always going to end up in jail whether or not Mark made him that much angrier; Simon would never have used that money well even if Mark hadn’t stolen it; Spud would have stayed an addict even if he didn’t have the extra money Mark left him. Nevertheless, all three men have refused to move on from an event that took place twenty years ago. Mark, meanwhile, made a valiant attempt at a normal life— moving to Amsterdam, kicking heroin, marrying, getting a real job— but recently all of that’s been falling apart so he moves back to Edinburgh to remember all the good times he spent there. Simon and Mark concoct hair-brained scheme to make money and we’re off to the races.
The strongest moments of the film were the moments that didn’t rely too much on reminding us of what a great movie the first one was.
T2 is all about nostalgia, and in some moments that’s done very well. In others it’s not. There’s a point, late in the film, that leaned so heavily on it I can’t not bring it up. It’s a scene where Mark reminisces about going into the first day of kindergarten and sitting down next to an “older” boy who had been held back a few years, who would turn out to be Begbie and his lifelong friend.
This is a completely ridiculous thing to say on multiple levels. First, Robert Carlyle (Begbie’s actor) is a good ten years older than Ewan McGregor (Mark) so that would make him a fifteen-year-old still in kindergarten. Even if you’re generous and say that the character Carlyle is playing is only five years older than Renton, that still makes him a ten-year-old somehow still in kindergarten which is still an upsettingly stupid idea. I’d be more comfortable if Mark had just said that he and Begbie were the same age.
Second, Mark clearly hated Begbie in the first movie, remaining his friend only out of a fear of what Begbie might do otherwise. An attempt such as this to inject emotional depth into a situation is transparent and painful. True, everyone looks at the past through rosy lenses— a lot of this movie is about that— but it’s hard to imagine either man being able to look back fondly on their relationship. That, my friends, is what we call a retcon and it’s a sure sign of a weak story. The reason I’m talking so much about this part is that in a way it’s representative of the whole movie: sweet and well-filmed but excessively nostalgic, and in some ways just not quite right.
But hey, it was fun. If you’ve seen Danny Boyle’s other movies, he’s got this very characteristic fast and rhythmic style that I think is just really fun to watch— though sometimes with some of the especially wacky shots you get the feeling that if someone were to ask him, “hey Danny Boyle, why did you make the shot this way?” He’d just be like, “I dunno, I thought it was cool.” But they are fun to watch so whatever, right?
You can tell that it was meant to be made 10 years after the original movie, and not 20. Because I can excuse this group of guys not being able to move on from a thing that happened 10 years ago. But 20? that’s kind of unbelievable. That’s like a whole my lifetime. A whole me has happened and they still can’t move on?
It’s hard to reinvigorate excitement for something that a whole generation of people have now grown up not having seen or talked about, at least in the US. I don’t know what the case is for the UK. It doesn’t help that, except for Ewen McGregor, none of these guys have gone on to have wildly successful careers. It feels like T2 is subconsciously telling the story of its own cast and crew rather, which just feels kind of sad.
Here’s an example: If you haven’t seen the original Trainspotting, the opening scene is really iconic; it’s got Renton and Spud running down a street, pursued by police, with Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life playing” in the background and there’s this famous monologue that Ewen McGregor gives in voiceover. Unless my memory fails me, T2 made at least four references to that one scene in some way or other, and this feels like too much. It’s time to move one, Danny, and make some new iconic scenes.
T2 Trainspotting rides on the coattails of its predecessor, but there are diminishing returns to that; at some point Boyle and everyone else need to take their own movie’s advice and face the music.