T2 Trainspotting (2017)

  • Time: 117 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Danny Boyle
  • Cast: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller


First there was an opportunity……then there was a betrayal. Twenty years have gone by. Much has changed but just as much remains the same. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to the only place he can ever call home. They are waiting for him: Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Other old friends are waiting too: sorrow, loss, joy, vengeance, hatred, friendship, love, longing, fear, regret, diamorphine, self-destruction and mortal danger, they are all lined up to welcome him, ready to join the dance.


  • It’s been 21 years since Renton chose life (and stole his mates’ money) at the end of Danny Boyle’s generation-defining Trainspotting, and the boys have somehow managed to live long enough to become middle-aged men unsuccessfully dealing with women, children, addiction, and, most of all, each other.

    A two-decade-long stint in prison hasn’t mellowed out ticking time bomb Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in the least. If anything, he’s even more terrifying, positively throbbing with revenge as he stages a stabbing injury in order to get himself to a hospital from which he can escape back into the real world. That’s bad news for Renton (Ewan McGregor), who has decided to return to his old stomping grounds and make amends with the mates he betrayed all those years ago. Time has been good to Renton – he’s been living in Amsterdam with his Dutch wife and two kids and holding down a stable but boring job as some sort of asset manager – which annoys former best friend Simon aka Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), who relishes any misfortune that befalls Renton.

    Renton’s re-appearance also frustrates Spud (Ewen Bremmer), still hopelessly hooked on heroin and whose suicide attempt Renton interrupts early on in the film. Like Simon, Spud blames the disappointments of his life on Renton’s betrayal. Yet the three can’t quit each other. This is especially true of Renton and Simon – their mercurial dynamic veers from genuine affection to bitterness often within seconds – they’ve known each other for so long that they’re practically in each other’s DNA. Recapturing the past is one of the film’s themes, but sometimes the attempt to do so can be to your own detriment. “You’re a tourist in your own youth,” Renton is told and that trip to memory lane is part of what buoys this often entertaining but melancholic sequel.

    Boyle’s callbacks to the earlier film more often than not depict the fact that as you grow older, you often become a lesser version of yourself. It’s there in the opening moments which contrasts the older Renton struggling to run on a treadmill to his younger self dashing through the streets. Yet Boyle is also savvy enough not to be swayed by nostalgia. As Renton and Simon remind each other, their youth wasn’t brimming with innocence – people died because they were so self-involved in their addictions.

    It’s a thrill to see the quartet reunited. McGregor, Miller, Carlyle, and Bremmer seem to be having a grand old time re-inhabiting the roles that made them famous. However, it would be remiss to say that T2 Trainspotting is a wholly satisfying experience. There’s not much of a plot, the returning female characters are woefully underserved, and the social commentary is less barbed than the first. The soundtrack is as well-curated as ever and Boyle’s characteristic stylistic flourishes feel more natural here than in his post-Trainspotting efforts.

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  • Here’s where Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief” kicks in. We have to believe the four “heroes” of Trainspotting survived for another 20 years. This film tells us they did so we have to accept that, however improbable that may be. If we don’t there’s no movie — and that would be a loss.
    The sequel is a rewarding, touching return to those four fascinating Scottish outsiders and their varying attempts to escape their drug addictions. T2 retains the original exuberant nihilism. Renton’s exhortation parallels his first film’s opening:

    Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently. And choose watching history repeat itself. Choose your future. Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hour contract, a two hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen. And then… take a deep breath. You’re an addict. So be addicted, just be addicted to something else. Choose the ones you love. Choose your future. Choose life.

    The plot centres on Renton’s return and his three mates’ response to him having run off with their drug deal money 20 years earlier. He had paid Spud, who blew it on heroin, but Sick Boy wants to score a deeper revenge than his cue-stick attack. Begbie escapes jail and tries to kill them all.
    Age has brought the three lads to hunger for a dignity that they don’t have much chance ever to get. Sick Boy tries to move up from his seedy pimp-and-blackmail career to running a classy sauna-cum-brothel on an EU urban development grant — until a powerful pimp elbows him out. Renton is squeezed out of his London financial job and succeeds as a real estate agent until his old mates sink him.
    They can’t leave their laddish ways easily. Begbie returns to his wife and grown son, who prefers his college ambitions over joining Dad in his work. Begbie’s hunger for vengeance gets him back in jail.
    Spud has lost his wife and son to his heroin habit but by the end of the film seems on some road back. Sick Boy’s woman Veronica encourages Spud to write out his colourful anecdotes in his speaking voice — which will turn into the successful Irvine Welsh novels on which the film were based. Renton survives.
    Memory is a key theme in the film. The past is an actual presence when Renton’s mother’s shadow appears behind the empty kitchen chair, on his return after her death. In another scene Spud moves unleashed from his shadow — or vice versa. The last shot turns Renton’s boyhood bedroom into a continuously expanding tunnel from which we hurl away as if on a train, like the engines that fill the transporting boy’s wallpaper.
    The flashbacks to the first film flesh out the characters’ root in their past and struggle to emerge from it. When the men return to the highlands in memory of the dead Tommy, Sick Boy rejects the nostalgia: “You’re a tourist in your own youth. We were young; bad things happened.” Sick Boy can’t escape his infant daughter’s death any more than Spud his self-destructive addictions and Rentpn’s nagging dream of normalcy.
    In contrast, the precocious schoolgirl of Renton’s one-night stand has matured into a still insightful, expensive lawyer. But the four men have sadly failed to outgrow their old selves, though Renton has made the best stab at it. As Spud articulates their failures, “First, there’s an opportunity. Then… there’s a betrayal.” Under Danny Boyle’s direction this sequel takes advantage of the opportunity the first film and its ardent following provided — without betraying its values, spirit and energy. If the excremental vision is toned down slightly it’s to salutary effect.

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