There seems to be an ongoing double-edged sword with these long awaited sequels we’ve been getting. The anticipation is high as fans of the original build up the hype in their minds and the nostalgia level is definite fodder for the movies to play with. Last year saw the failure of movies like Zoolander 2, released fifteen years after the original; and Independence Day: Resurgence, a full twenty year wait after the first one. Both Zoolander 2 and Independence Day: Resurgence flopped horrendously, but we also saw the success of Finding Dory, which was more than a decade late. The nostalgic reliance proved to be the biggest problem with these movies because it prodded the filmmakers to pander, rehash and reuse elements to appeal to their audiences rather than forge any sort of original identity. Now, twenty-one years after it first debuted, Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting gets a companion story and enters the gauntlet of living up to what everyone loved about the predecessor.
Twenty years after Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) left his mates behind, taking the money from their big score with him, he returns to Edinburgh in a major existential crisis. Still living in town, Spud (Ewan Bremner) has lived the years since we’ve seen him as a man perpetually on the edge of his addiction, seemingly always moments away from relapse. On the other hand, Simon, AKA Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), hasn’t let up on his excessive lifestyle at all, making blackmail videos of whatever members of society he can and doing copious amounts of cocaine at all times. With an undying grudge against his former best friend Mark, Simon concocts a plan to lure him closer for the ultimate betrayal. All the plans are going well until the incarcerated mad man Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes from jail, hell bent on destroying Mark Renton for leaving him in his present condition.
You know that pesky nostalgia problem I was talking about? Danny Boyle and original screenwriter John Hodge manage to use the old film to fuel and invigorate this new story. Each character has unique moments of remembering the past that we lived in that 1996 film and feels that they have sleepwalked through the last twenty years, Spud even seeing the ghosts of that time in front of his face. What we loved about the first film is what the four men are desperate to regain but the reality remains. That was then, this is now and we have to live with the consequences of our actions, we have to settle into the skin we live in and we have to channel our addictions into avenues that are less destructive, something Renton has philosophized but none of the other three have had the strength to make it part of themselves.
T2: Trainspotting is like opening up that old collection of records and discovering an updated B-side. Our cast and creators are more than happy to play a little variation of the hits but it’s about forging a new path and realizing that there is more to life than burning out quickly. If you can remember the “Choose Life” speech Renton gives in the first film, his new and older version in this one will strike you as even more poignant because that smile we saw at the end of the first story is a bit more of an irony. Renton may have chosen life but it came at a cost that would only serve to haunt him and drive a darker wedge into the man he would become. For us, as the viewers, it’s amazing to see Danny Boyle and company reflect what they have learned in the world since 1996 and show us that as something very like a “thank you” to us who have loved this story and carried it in our hearts to this very day. 5/5