The opening few minutes of Danny Boyle’s introspective and retrospective T2 Trainspotting should come with a warning, but more on that later.
Surprisingly, Boyle’s first image is not in Scotland, but Amsterdam, where we see Renton (Ewan McGregor) pounding a treadmill, a direct call back to the opening of the original 1996 classic. This is followed by rapid fire updates on where the last 26 years have left Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle).
Musical and visual call backs are aplenty, kicked off with subtle notes from Lou Reeds’ Perfect Day, and grainy, almost memory-like 1996 footage, arriving within the first five minutes. These provide something of a memorial bridge to the previous film and set the scene for what is about to be unleashed.
Like most of Boyle’s films, on the surface T2 is another bleak canvass, but contained within it, is an exploration of the power of friendships, an examination of modern society and most importantly, a celebration of life.
Homecoming is front and centre, and while Renton has more to fear than most in a return to his home town, Boyle captures this anxiety and apprehension through Renton’s tentative, relatable steps and conversations reminiscent of a truly fucked up school reunion.
Nostalgia is everywhere, and at one point, Renton states ‘nostalgia, that’s why you are here’ and it is almost like he is talking directly to the audience. However, this is not nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake – this is no cash in, instead, there is inventiveness and exploration, which expands and enhances the original.
Boyle waited 26 years to make this film, needing the cast to rack up the necessary life miles. This is time well spent, as it simply would not have worked any earlier, he needed the time and distance. Almost the entire cast returns, through interwoven, authentic and substantive routes. There are no token walk-ons; everyone feels lived in – you can see the miles on the clock.
It’s harder to say how T2 will work for people coming to Trainspotting for the first time. It is almost impossible to separate the two films, which are the cinematic equivalent of conjoined twins. T2 is peppered with call backs and shot recreations from the first film, though these emerge naturally within the narrative and are akin to memories sparked as Renton and others retrace old steps.
T2 is also potentially the most Danny Boyle of all Boyle’s films: his trademark frenetic energy is mixed with visual flair, underscored by a hard hitting, yet atmospheric soundtrack with echoes of that titular 1996 CD. The visual creativeness is staggering in places, with individual scenes carrying extraordinary levels of emotional heft.
To quote the heartbreakingly good Spud, ’First there was an opportunity, and then there was a betrayal’, which sums up how T2 could have gone. However, there is no betrayal here, just creative, compelling and committed filmmaking from a cast and crew operating at the top of their game. Be warned though, this is addictive stuff.