You can’t recreate your past, but you can relive it in your head over and over again, seeing it differently as you become someone new each year, month, week and day. That's the big, trippy idea at the heart of Danny Boyle’s ‘T2 Trainspotting’, a frenetic but also reflective film about the past colliding with the present. It has some soaring highs and a few lows – but it’s never lazy, even if it never matches the one-off magic of the 1990s Britpop-era original. Frankly: how could it?
‘T2’ sees Renton (Ewan McGregor) arrive back in Edinburgh from Amsterdam where he’s been working in ‘stock management software for the retail sector’ (choose life, indeed) and where his personal life has taken a hit. Back home, he seeks out Spud (Ewen Bremner), to whom life hasn’t been kind in an altogether more devastating way, and he reconnects with Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), who is now running a blackmail and prostitution racket with business partner Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova in one of several underwritten female roles; Shirley Henderson and Kelly Macdonald suffer the same fate). The missing piece of the jigsaw is Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who’s still seething about being stitched up by Renton all those years ago and who's stuck in jail – but not for long.
‘T2’ is a sequel, but it's not just about continuing a story. It knows how much is riding on our nostalgia, and it wants to prod and play with it. That ‘T2’ tag could easily stand for ‘take two’: a second look at the story of friendship and betrayal that defined the original film, only now seen from the perspective of two decades on. We see snippets of the first ‘Trainspotting’, as well as Super-8-style flashbacks of the boys as kids. John Hodges’s script draws on Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel ‘Porno’, but it also loops back to the first book, and just about avoids disappearing up its own backside when it makes a bold suggestion about the authorship of Welsh’s debut.
Like the original, ‘T2 Trainspotting’ is a winning mix of low living and high jinx, a stylized spin on real life. Music is just as important, and there are familiar tunes, but the tone is less youthful and more maudlin. It’s a darker film, with less humour (although there’s a brilliant comic scene in a Unionist club), and it’s a little grander: the photography is more epic, the look more grown-up, although there's a familiar anarchy to the visuals.
Perhaps there’s just too much going on for the melancholy to hit home fully: ‘T2’ works too hard to be both a buzzy, scuzzy revenge story – complete with bar-room fights, nighttime chases and low-rent porn scams – and a downer portrait of time gone, opportunities missed and connections lost. It’s a busy, boisterous and awkward film. But it also has just enough of those two ingredients that made the first film such a gem – style and soul – and you have to salute Boyle and co for doing something much more interesting than delivering a straight-up cash-in or nostalgia fest. For all its larks and energy, it’s an oddly haunting experience, strange and sad, to see these faces again, now older, more lined, less carefree.