Review: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

At one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever.

by Benjamín Harguindey

T2 Trainspotting – the sequel to the 20 year old cult classic Trainspotting – is just a nice trip down memory lane. That’s no small feat, but there’s little else to it, which in turn makes it sort of disappointing. Considering how groundbreaking the first movie was, the second one leaves you wishing it had been at least about something instead of settling for an homage of itself.

Need we be reminded of how great Trainspotting was? ‘Tis the season for revivals anyway, and a Trainspotting revival could’ve done much worse than rounding up the original cast and crew. Danny Boyle directs an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s sequel Porno and picks up 20 years later for a “getting the band together” storyline that doesn’t pay off until the very end. That’s another disappointment but it makes sense – if you put Renton (Ewan McGregor) and the psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in the same room anytime earlier, the story would be over before we could even get enough footage for a teaser trailer.

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Begbie is still sore at Renton, who famously “Chose Life” at the end of the first movie as he cheerfully walked away with their £16,000 from a drug deal. Now Renton’s returning to his native Edinburgh following a 20-year, self-imposed exile and a heart attack, just as Begbie coincidentally breaks from jail and both start seeking out their “so-called mates”.

There is Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), now going by Simon, whose career in seedy get-rich-quick schemes has left him with a dead end pub and Veronika, the Bulgarian girlfriend he pimps for blackmail material. And there is the affable Spud (Ewen Bremner), the one friend still hooked on heroin, estranged from his wife and son.

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The movie starts off with a series of belated meetings – Renton meets Spud, Renton meets Simon, Begbie meets Simon, etc. – and from there doesn’t quite know where to go or what to do with itself. The movie puts a strange emphasis in Renton and Simon’s relationship and totes a will-they-or-won’t-they (reconcile) arc that seems weirdly out of place in light of the previous movie, in which they shared that one scene where they shoot a dog for laughs and that was that. Their legendary friendship was either isolated to the book (where they actually kill the dog) or more probably is a product of the fact McGregor and Miller have accrued the most stardom since 1996, so they’re put centerfold as much as possible.

Sharing the spotlight with them is Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), who turns the reunion into a love triangle which, like her character, proves to be ultimately pointless. The movie wastes too much time on her and not enough on Diane (Kelly Macdonald), Renton’s old flame who turns in for little more than a cameo. Spud and Begbie are similarly sidelined – kept to themselves in isolated subplots, Spud being the face of the movie’s own nostalgia for itself, Begbie tangling with the family we never knew he had.

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What is T2 Trainspotting ultimately about? A melancholy movie that spares no expense washing in its own nostalgia, fabricating home movies, setting up scenes reminiscent of older ones, staging countless nods and references that boil down to an incessant “Do you remember this bit? Do you remember that one?” and so on. It’ll probably be as endearing to the fans as it was to the people who made the movie, but in the end T2 doesn’t have anything to show for itself – nothing to rival everything it reveres.

The one very odd, very funny scene that comes close to mimicking the energy of the original one is a sequence where Renton and Simon head into an Orange Lodge for petty theft and wind up improvising a live performance for their fanatically Protestant crowd where the chorus line is “There were no more Catholics left!“. It’s funny in that randomly construed Naked Gun way, but more to the point, for a brief moment the movie is about something – lowlife criminals aping their way into the bourgeoisie. The movie goes on to dabble a little more on the themes of globalization and gentrification, but never to the point of being about that or indeed anything.

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Most excruciatingly, Renton gets to reprise his famous “Choose Life” monologue, only this time on the subject of social media. What he says you’ve heard in every other movie since the invention of Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps that’s the problem here: T2 comes to us too late to be of any relevance, and because it’s not about anything in particular, it stalls for time throughout its 2 hours, coming up with all sorts of false starts and tangential plot points until there’s nothing left to do but get the gang back together for the very last scene of the film.

Full disclosure: I enjoyed the movie as a one-time fan of the Trainspotting phenomenon. Watching the characters meet again, hyping each reunion, confirming everything you thought you knew about them and what would become of them – it’s a work by fans, for the fans, which puts it in the realm of fanfiction. It also means it tells a thoroughly complacent story in which nothing of importance is said or shown and, compared to the primal energy that fueled the original movie, this work of self-congratulation is too little, too late – and too redundant.


BenjaBenjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).

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