‘It’s just nostalgia! You’re a tourist in your own youth…’
After 20 years little has changed in the Edinburgh district of Leith. Spud is still a junkie, Sick Boy is still a con man and Begbie is still psychotic. For Renton however, things have changed. After 20 years abroad, Renton returns to Leith to attend the funeral of his mother with life changing consequences…
Sometimes the perfect film comes out at the perfect time and captures the zeitgeist in such a way that it becomes intrinsically linked to that time period for ever. Trainspotting was released mere weeks after the end of Euro ’96 and was sandwiched between the release of two seminal Oasis albums in Morning Glory in ’95 and Be Here Now in ’97. Even as a 10 year old it was clear that something exciting was happening. While I didn’t see Trainspotting until a few years later, it will always recall the endless summer of 1996 for me – one of the happiest and sepia tinged periods of my life. It is easy to level accusations of bias blinded by nostalgia when tackling T2 but nostalgia alone is never enough. Indiana Jones 4, Die Hard 5 and Terminator:Salvation are just a few examples of terrible films that had the power of nostalgia on their side but still ended in disappointment. That being said, I fucking love the characters from Trainspotting and the world that writer Irvine Welsh and director Danny Boyle have crafted. I’ve read all of Welsh’s books many times over and it is not hyperbolic to suggest that seeing Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie back on the silver screen was akin to meeting up with a group of long lost friends.
The strength of Trainspotting has always been in its characters. Any of the four Horsemen of the Junkie Apocalypse are capable of carrying a film on their own and together their chemistry is palpable. But while Spud and particularly Begbie stray too close to caricature for comfort in T2, Renton and Sick Boy remain as engaging and believable as ever. This is, of course, down to the ability of Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller to bring the characters to life. After 20 years and numerous disparate and varied roles it is impossible to imagine McGregor and Miller as anyone but Renton and Sick Boy once you see them on screen together again.
T2 isn’t perfect however. While the Trainspotting soundtrack was iconic, the music too often feels like a pale imitation here and the Renton’s updated ‘Choose Life’ speech feels contrived rather than revelatory as it did in the original. There are also scenes towards the end that don’t really ring true. Aside from those missteps however, Boyle’s direction sparkles, the script is electric and laugh out loud funny and the characters are an utter joy, particularly when interacting with each other.
Trainspotting was perfect. And while T2 doesn’t quite recapture the magic of the original, it comes mighty close.