Generation wrecks: ‘T2: Trainspotting 2’ reviewed

❉ “Choose living in the past because the future is broken”

Choose thoughtful and considered filmmaking in a sea of high concept remakes and superhero franchises. Choose the thwarted optimism of an entire generation. Choose confronting the ghosts of the past in a broken down middle-aged body you still haven’t fully come to terms with. Choose Robert Carlisle with a pornstache. Choose living in the past because the future is broken. Choose YOUR evening’s entertainment. Choose ‘Trainspotting’ 2.

Watch the opening credits of ‘T2’ and you’ll see that it doesn’t lack for authenticity: it’s brought to by the same production team which brought you ‘Trainspotting’: we have DNA films, co-founded by ‘Trainspotting’ producer Andrew McDonald, and we have Film 4, who fully funded the first film, ostensibly to protect Boyle, Hodge and McDonald’s creative vision (original co-funders Polygram were none too pleased with THAT toilet scene, and wanted to have it removed). The original cast are mostly still there too, and there’s even a nice cameo by Kelly MacDonald’s Diane Coulston.

In ‘T2’ we revisit the characters of ‘Trainspotting’ 20 years after Renton sprinted off into the horizon having resolved to choose life, a job, a future and the Thatcherite dream so strongly denounced in Welsh’s novel, callously making off with a wad of cash while screwing over his nearest and dearest in the process.

In ‘T2’ we see Renton returned from Amsterdam reformed: ready to make amends and to give back the money he stole to Sick Boy (now simply ‘Simon’). But, later, it all comes out – Renton isn’t doing all that well. In fact, he’s going through a divorce and he’s lost the half-decent job in finance that he secured after getting some accountancy qualifications.  His olive branch to Simon consists of 4 grand, presented in a brown envelope. This isn’t well-received, not least because Renton clearly doesn’t understand how inflation works (which does sort of explain the job thing).

Begbie (Robert Carlyle) raging over toilet cubicle

Meanwhile, Begbie, denied parole for the umpteenth time, decides to break out of prison, and subsequently has a hard time squeezing back into the Begbie-shaped hole he left in the world when he went inside 20 years ago. But it’s not Begbie that’s changed; it’s everything else. His now-grown son, disappointingly, fails to be a complete mental case (“I’m taking a college course in hotel management, dad”) and though he tries his best to get into the petty crime game, the wee lad’s heart really isn’t in it. And while innovations like Snapchat and Instagram offer a world of possibilities in the vein of ‘cunts who might be looking at you a bit funny’, they just lack that personal touch. Or headbutt.

The first, most obvious thing to note about ‘T2’ is that it lacks the manic energy of the original (though this is not for want of a pumping soundtrack which, honestly, is more teeth-jarring than euphoric). The plot of ‘T2’ is also far more meandering – but there are shots of adrenalin in places (Begbie’s psychopathic pursuit of Renton) and there’s a level of comic absurdity throughout which matches the tone of the first film very well. ‘T2’ also veers into psychedelia, but this is subtly handled – there are no stalking corpse-babies or improbably roomy u-bends here.

But maintaining the manic energy of the first film wouldn’t really have worked because, more than anything, ‘T2’ is about ageing. It’s about the loss of youth, the loss of optimism and the realisation that, no, it isn’t all ahead of you. But perhaps it isn’t over, either. ‘T2’ is about our inability to escape the consequences of the choices we make. It’s about mourning the loss of who we used to be and facing the reality of who we’ve become – of what those choices have made us.

For most of us the process of growing and changing and adding new dimensions to our identities as we get older is an enriching and positive one. But for the last 20 years Renton, Simon and Begbie have basically existed in a state of arrested development (Spud’s role renders him far too interesting to be included here) which makes for interesting viewing as they’re forced to confront their past decisions and account for who and what they’ve become. And they’re not just answering to their younger selves: ‘Trainspotting’ was a film which captivated an entire generation, a film which laid bare the gross injustices of neoliberal economics and post-industrialisation in Britain while somehow managing to echo the visual style of Tarantino and the Coen Brothers (so stick that up yer Ken Loach and smoke it).

‘T2’ is no ‘Trainspotting’. The tone is broadly similar, but it’s a bit more reflective than that. Like many films you’ll see out in cinemas right now (because cinema, like Renton and Sick Boy, seems set on re-living past glories), it’s a sequel-cum-loose-remake of a classic, but it’s a film which forces us to think just as much as it wallows in nostalgia for a bygone era. Before facing the future, we must first come to terms with the past: it’s just not a good idea to become too obsessed with it.

❉ ‘T2: Trainspotting’ is distributed by Tristar Pictures and opened on 27 January 2017.

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