For many, the original outing of Spud, Renton, Begbie and Sickboy occupies an unassailable position of the cult film of the 90’s. For them, the sound of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ is inextricably associated with the image of Ewan McGregor’s feet hitting the floor as he delivers his now world famous ‘Choose Life’ soliloquy. And it’s for those people that Trainspotting 2 (T2) exists.
Catching up with the characters 20 years on, Mark Renton returns to Edinburgh having spent the past two decades trying to build a life for himself in Amsterdam away from the drugs and criminal antics of his youth. Naturally, his former mates are less than pleased to see him after he made off with their £16,000 at the end of the first film.
On his return Renton discovers an Edinburgh that’s moved on, but finds his former drug buddies very much stuck in the past. Spud is struggling to keep his life and relationships together having been unable to shake his heroin addiction, Sick Boy is still trying to make money quickly and has traded heroin for regular doses of cocaine, and Begbie remains at Her Majesty’s pleasure in prison. But not for long. After an orchestrated encounter with the sharp end of a stick, Begbie escapes and returns to his old ways determined to seek revenge on Renton for his betrayal 20 years prior.
As a film in its own right T2 doesn’t offer much in the way of plot, there’s some business about setting up a brothel and shenanigans with a local crime boss, as well as some highly implausible bank transactions regarding an EU development loan. But the truth is that T2 doesn’t need any of that to succeed, whilst it feeds heavily off of the original, the fact that it revisits these beloved characters and provides a plausible and satisfactory part two to their tale is enough.
Seeing them dealing with their life choices as fully grown men lends the film a decidedly nostalgic tone, and it’s a theme that runs throughout T2. Locations and events from the original are revisited, and there’s liberal use of footage from the first film. It’s not entirely backward facing however, Renton’s ‘Choose Life’ speech has been updated to include modern trivialities, and ultimately the film is about coming to terms with the life they have lived.
Whilst not as hyper-kinetic and drug addled as its predecessor (there’s no strange baby or toilet diving hallucinations this time around), T2 maintains the same honest humour and sharp writing which shines just as bright second time around, as in the original there’s no judgement about the lives on display here, just people, decisions, sadness and silliness.
Robert Carlyle is a standout performance as Begbie, whenever he’s on screen he brings this tremendous sense of threat and unhinged danger. Also of note is Ewen Bremner as Spud, who acts as narrator for the last half of the film as he begins to write down and document their adventures together. The soundtrack is fittingly excellent and well utilised, though the Prodigy remix of ‘Lust for life’ may jar with some.
Trainspotting 2 is a worthwhile sequel to one of the biggest cult films of all time, and though it may not have the impact and significance of the original it’s a thoughtful, funny and moving conclusion to a story that began 21 years ago.
Trainspotting 2 receives a Cinescape “high” score of: 8/10