It's been 20 years since Danny Boyle directed Trainspotting, his breakout hit. To celebrate this milestone, Boyle decided to work on a sequel, summoning the old cast of characters to the silver screen once more. Making a follow-up to a landmark film like Trainspotting was always going to be a tough challenge and T2 Trainspotting (as the official title goes) is sure to leave some people disappointed, but that's just how sequels work. Considering the legacy of the first film, I think Boyle did a pretty terrific job modernizing the original.
Luckily for Boyle, Irvine Welsh (writer of the Trainspotting novel) also penned a follow-up, titled Porno. Boyle used this novel as a sort of template to bring the original characters back to life, though T2 Trainspotting didn't turn out to be a straight adaptation of Porno. There's just enough of a connection to feel the ghost of Irvine Welsh haunting the sequel, at the same time it's also very much a Danny Boyle film and a sequel to his own success. Those worrying that it's just a desperate cash-in can rest assured, it's clear some thought went into this film.
But doing a sequel remains tricky. Some people want to relive the actual experience of the first film (seeing something original, daring and edgy), others want to see a modernized continuation of the Trainspotting universe and a third group might just want to revisit the setting of the original. Trainspotting is very much defined by the early/mid-90s UK scene and there's just no way to bring that back to life in 2017 without it feeling extremely retro. Boyle tries to reconcile all these different elements, but I felt that in doing so he diluted the experience a little.
The story picks up after Renton's mom passes away and Renton returns from Amsterdam to visit his dad. Back in Edinburgh, he reunites with his old pals, though they are still pretty sour about him leaving with the money all these years ago. Even so, old bonds are hard to break and Renton and Simon (Sick Boy) decide to open up their own business. All goes relatively well, until Begbie escapes from prison and runs into Renton by accident. Begbie isn't willing to forgive and forget so easily and vows to bring Renton to his knees.
Trainspotting was a film with lots of visual creativity and youthful flair, T2 Trainspotting has a more overall polished feel to it. What's lacking in originality (think the infamous toilet scene or Renton's cold turkey montage) is replaced by markedly more stylish visuals. While not as in your face or immediately memorable, they do leave a sense of refinement that gives the sequel its own direction and makes for a very pleasant viewing. Not Boyle's absolute best, but even then the film looks way above average.
As for the soundtrack, I'm pretty much in two minds. While I am aware that the music of the first one was mostly rock-inspired, whenever I think Trainspotting I think Underworld's Born Slippy. There's such a strong connection between the two that I'm glad Boyle didn't reuse the track in the sequel, though he did include a beautiful homage halfway through. As for the rest of the soundtrack, I felt Boyle tried a little too hard to modernize it, especially as much of it still sounded quite old and passé to me. I think he would've done better to either go with the music of tomorrow, or just stick with the vibe of the first film. That's not to say the soundtrack is completely terrible, just not up to Boyle's own standards.
As the for the cast, Boyle succeeded in reuniting all the main actors from the original film (except for McKidd, since his character didn't survive the first film). McGregor, Carlyle, Henderson, Miller and Macdonald all pick up their old parts, but to me there's only one true star and that's Ewen Bremner. His rendition of Spud was so incredibly spot on and seeing him get back into the part is definitely one of the highlights of the film. There's only one new addition to the main cast and that's Anjela Nedyalkova (who does a commendable job), fans of Welsh will be happy to hear he once again secured a small cameo.
While the first half of T2 Trainspotting feels like a drawn-out epilogue of the original, Boyle gradually builds up a new narrative, subtly adding splashes of emotional baggage left and right. It all adds up to a pretty spectacular scene where Begbie laments on his past, comparing the relationship he had with his father to what he's going through with his own son. It's at that exact moment that T2 Trainspotting finally yanks itself loose from the original and comes into its own right. Maybe Boyle could've delivered that moment a little earlier into the film, but considering the legacy this sequel was up against it's quite an accomplishment to have it even surface in the first place.
T2 Trainspotting is a damn good companion piece to the first film. I don't think it's a sequel that can be seen separately from the original, but it doesn't take away from Boyle's and Welsh' original vision and even manages to add something substantial. Boyle tries to balance many different ideas and directions regarding what a good sequel should be, and as a result the sequel is a just a little less pure and pristine, but the quality is definitely still there and fans of the first film have a lot to look forward to.