If you’re in your 40s, it’s a pretty safe bet that, about 20 years ago, either you or someone you know will have had a Trainspotting poster on their wall. And owned the soundtrack. And, of course, went to see Danny Boyle’s second film, based on Irvine Welsh’s cult novel, that became a phenomena long before Boyle enjoyed a second lease of creative life as the mastermind behind the brilliant London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
The original Trainspotting captured the zeitgeist. Ewan McGregor’s opening Choose Life monologue, delivered over the unmistakable tones of Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, captured the imagination of a generation. It propelled Boyle into the big league, showcasing his Scorsese-way with a camera and his keen eye for a set-piece. It also turned Ewan McGregor, then best known for the lead in Dennis Potter’s Channel 4 drama Lipstick On Your Collar, into an international superstar.
I was a bit worried when I heard that Boyle had got the old gang back together for a Trainspotting sequel. I’d read Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno and, while enjoyable (in the usual sleazy, slightly mucky way that you enjoy an Irvine Welsh book), couldn’t imagine it being turned into a film that would stand side by side with the original.
I need not have worried – Boyle has produced another masterpiece. In many ways, it’s the perfect sequel. It’s a different type of film from Trainspotting: the rush and dirty glamour of the ’90s has been replaced by an appropriately mournful and regretful tone. The characters have been knocked about by life, and you can almost feel the pain and sorrow statementing from the screen.
What’s brilliant about T2 is how Boyle links it back to the original – there are several explicit nods where actual clips from the first film are used, and then are little references such as Renton leaning on a car bonnet and grinning at the driver, or Spud’s opening monologue which recalls his speed-fuelled job interview in the first film.
T2 is as much a film about the power of friendship as it is about the power of drugs. These people, so seemingly close-knit in their mid-20s, have lost touch and are only just reuniting, but you can still sense the bond there, the sense of shared history. Ewan Bremner as Spud has many of the most touching moments: there’s a scene where he walks around Edinburgh, and the ghosts of Sick Boy and Renton run around him. The look of sadness on his face as he ponders what’s become of his life is a haunting one.
As with the original, Boyle’s soundtrack is perfect – new versions of the classic songs by Iggy and Underworld, together with some newer names like Wolf Alice and Young Fathers who fit into this universe like a glove. And, as you’d expect, he directs like a master – freeze-frames, voiceovers, flashy ‘text on screen’ scenes: all are delivered with aplomb.
There’s the odd bit that feels forced: Renton’s ‘Choose Life’ monologue is updated to take into the changes in society over the last 20 years (‘choose Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, choose slut shaming, choose revenge porn etc) but it feels a bit shoe-horned in. Overall though, it’s an absolute triumph, and really does feel like catching up with some old friends (even if those friends are wrong ‘uns!) after many years away.