Danny Boyle introduced T2 Trainspotting at the screening I attended and said that, throughout filming, he’d seen the cast looking at him and what these looks were saying was: ‘It had better not be shite, Danny.’ This may sum up all our thinking, pretty much. It had better not be shite, Danny. Danny, do what you have to do but, we beg you, don’t make it shite. Once more, with extra feeling: don’t, don’t, don’t make it shite, Danny. And? I take no pleasure in saying it (seriously, hand on heart) but this sequel is, in fact, quite shite.*
I won’t bore on about the original film, even though some of us are still recovering from it — oh God, Dawn, the dead baby — and may never recover from it, and this may be part of the problem. The original is Boyle’s masterpiece and will, I suspect, remain so no matter how many Slumdog Millionaires he makes, or Olympic opening ceremonies he conducts, and comparisons are unavoidable as, once seen, you can never unsee. (Oh God, Dawn, the dead baby. Also ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’.)
Based on Irvine Welsh’s novel, the film told the story of a group of heroin-addicted young men (and one violent, psychopathic drunk) in Edinburgh, but told it with such verve and wit and energy that there was something fiercely joyful about it. (That said, kids, don’t do drugs.) What’s happened to the characters over the past two decades you’ve possibly never asked yourself, but here we are, so let’s get on with it.
This is the deal: as loosely based on Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno, Renton (Ewan McGregor) has been living in Amsterdam but returns to Edinburgh to look up the old mates he double-crossed on that drug deal. (Bit foolish, Renton.) He finds that gentle, goofy Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still an addict, estranged from his wife and kid. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), meanwhile, is proprietor of his auntie’s dilapidated pub and runs an extortion racket with a Bulgarian prostitute. Begbie, as played by Robert Carlyle? He has given up violent psychopathy for embroidery and runs a donkey sanctuary. I’m toying with you. Begbie is still Begbie but with a fat moustache and he wants revenge on Renton, big time.
The film is not a visual or aural reimagining. It uses the same techniques: a fast, kinetic pace; Iggy Pop pounding on the soundtrack; freeze-frames; cutaways; words jumping on to the screen. But while this was dazzlingly new and exciting in 1996, it’s now what Guy Ritchie wakes up doing and goes to bed doing before waking up the following day and starting all over again. Feels tired; is tired.
On to the characters, who were sad and despairing back in the day, but always empathetic and never victims. Here …well, I’m not that sure who they are. One has an epiphany but then returns to being what he always was, for example. The main narrative drive is provided by Renton and Sick Boy’s frenemy relationship, along with Begbie’s desire for vengeance, while Spud does his goofy, gormless shtick and the women don’t do much. They’re grievously underwritten, particularly Shirley Henderson who, as Spud’s wife, is tragically wasted.
But nothing is as tragic as how laboured the plot is. The nods to the original film are laboured. The comedy is laboured. Renton updates his famed ‘Choose life’ monologue in a restaurant scene that is so laboured my insides died. Plus, the film isn’t scrupulous in its attention to detail. I discussed this with someone afterwards who said I should ‘just let it go’, which shows how well they don’t know me. Perhaps if I’d felt more involved I wouldn’t have noticed, but I wasn’t and did. So injuries incurred in one scene are absent in the next. Our violent psychopath escapes from prison but the police aren’t ever after him. People attending a pub event leave their coats on the rails provided with their wallets in the pockets. (Who does that? Who, who?)
Most unforgivably, Kelly Macdonald, who played Renton’s love interest in the original, reappears for one scene, which had obviously been written so that Kelly Macdonald could appear in one scene, as it serves no other purpose whatsoever. And as for the ending, aside from one character, who is awarded a most unlikely rebirth, for the rest it descends into a silly caper with elements from The Shining.
It doesn’t appear to have anything to say about ageing, politics, drugs or even friendship and is, instead, just obsessively sentimental, particularly about the father-son relationship. Watch the Trainspotting that isn’t T2 (T1?) instead, and if you already have, then rewatch it. I know: Dawn, the dead baby. But that’s what I’m saying. It wasn’t forgettable like this.
*Other opinions are available, and even abound.