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T2 Trainspotting Review: The Cult Classic Gets a Brilliant Sequel

By Julian Roman — March 14th, 2017

Director Danny Boyle recaptures lightning in a bottle. T2 Trainspotting is a vivid, frenetic sequel to the cult classic that made Ewan McGregor a star. Trainspotting was the thumb in your eye, middle-finger homage to the drug-addled lunacy that defined a distinct era in Britain. Twenty years later, T2 will have you rolling in the aisles; laughing, and grimacing at the gang's new adventures. The characters remain true to form as they reconnect in spectacularly awkward fashion.

The last time we saw Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), he had stolen the heroin money, given a secret cut to Spud (Ewen Bremner), and absconded mysteriously. Leaving Simon aka Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and the psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) passed out on the floor. The story picks up twenty years later with Mark having a life-altering crisis in Amsterdam. The waif thin junkie has been replaced by a supremely fit exercise addict. Mark heads back to Edinburgh to set his past misdeeds right.

Life has been tragic for Spud. He never kicked the habit, going from job to job, recovery to addiction, ashamed for his beloved ex-wife and son. Simon inherited his aunt's derelict pub. He spends his time blackmailing johns with his escort, quasi girlfriend, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Their reunions get a little messy, to put it mildly. Unbeknownst to all, Begbie, who has been in prison for murder the entire time, engineers a rather painful escape. He's got a family to see and payback for his former mates.

Trainspotting 2 is a wild ride from start to finish. The overall plot is hilarious, but secondary to the narrative of these broken men. Even though decades have gone by, they're all still lost and bumbling their way through life. The only thing they really had to treasure was each other. The film consistently cuts back to the group as children. We learn how they met, why they became friends. Mark's betrayal was an open wound that stung on many levels. T2 is about them coming together to address that, but then realizing how alone they were apart. It's bizarre and twisted, but honest and heartfelt.

Boyle's brilliant filmmaking techniques are on full display. T2 is wall to wall with thundering music, quick edits, and trippy visuals. Boyle is in his element and revels in it. He constantly refers to the original in subtle and not so subtly ways. I loved how he teases Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" throughout, and then drops it like a missile at the perfect moment. Most of the characters from the first film make an appearance. Some are hilarious, while others are tragic. It is a thoughtful take on the journey of life.

An unheralded character in both films is Edinburgh itself. I took it for granted in the first film, but the environment is key. From the rolling green hills, to the drab city streets, to the bouncing music halls, to the broken down poverty of the slums, these characters could only have come from Scotland. Even the foolishness of trainspotting was the result of these characters bored in their youth. Heroine was the escape from a dull existence, but it robbed them of so many friends and possibilities. One of the best scenes in T2 is Mark and Simon coming to terms with their home; how their foolish drug addiction destroyed so many lives.

From TriStar Pictures, T2 Trainspotting is that rarest of beasts. It is an apt sequel that also stands on its own as a great film. It's not perfect, the runtime and jump cuts do wear thin. But it's a clever follow-up to one of cinema's most original films. That's hard to pull off. Danny Boyle, his amazing cast, and crew show why they're so good in the first place. I think you have to see the first film before watching T2. It's not the same experience if you're unaware of the characters.

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