Tony makes another choice.
Again, or still, just twenty years older, greyer, less alive but somehow still kicking.
Choose a book the world’s not cool enough to film, and having just a little too little to say.
Choose tics and tick-box treats that prove that bloke from the Olympics is still making ‘real films.’
Choose to re-use some of the best bits from the original, directly, when you need to give the audience a goose.
Choose Fuck-me-wan Kenobi, the yank Sherlock Holmes and that bloke who’ll only ever be a junkie-for-hire.
Choose running out of story because some people just don’t have one,
Or have it when they’re young and then spend twenty fucked-up years doing nothing in a jail cell,
Or running their gran’s pub, or looking over their shoulder for their past to catch them up
And kick the shit out of them.
Choose getting the band back together, without the music, without the dream, and seeing more or less what happens.
Choose Life. In 2017.
Let’s get this out of the way first. T2 Trainspotting is not Porno.
Some people will be annoyed by that right from the get-go, to which the logical response would be go-get over yourselves. Porno was the book that reunited us with the Trainspotting characters twenty years on. T2 is the movie that does the same thing. There are lots of similarities, lots of scenes that are the same, lots of threads translated from one to the other, but T2 is not the story of Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie, Spud and some brand new characters as they make an adult movie and take it to the world’s premier porn awards.
Would that have made a great follow-up movie? Yes, it would. But this isn’t that movie. It’s worth pointing out before literary purists get spectacularly up themselves, Trainspotting the movie wasn’t Trainspotting the book, either – characters, arcs, whole gross incidents that burned in the mind from the book never made it to the screen, for much the same reason as T2 isn’t Porno – narrative consistency, and a sense of how far the Trainspotting bunch of characters can actually go in scandalising the moviegoing audience.
So, set that aside in your mind and what do you have in T2? Well, you do have many of the key players from Trainspotting, twenty years on. Renton, in Amsterdam, collapses with a heart issue. Sick Boy is running his granny’s old pub, a desperate fate for the coke-fiend and clever bastard, which he subsidises at least partially by running his ‘girlfriend’ as a hooker and more particularly taping her notable local clients in flagrante de-what-the-fuck, then blackmailing them for steady small sums to fund his coke habit. Spud, having faced a future with his girlfriend, their son, and all the trappings of normality, is once again a steady junkie, separated from his family and living in a shitpit on the liftless, oh-my-godth floor of one of Edinburgh’s high rise blocks. Begbie, bless his homicidal little heart, is in prison, where you fully expected him to be. Diane – well, Diane’s a secret that we won’t spoiler for you here, but she does make an appearance in the movie. The second movie is lacking exactly what you’d expect – the energy of the first, the youth, the devil-may-care wildness of a group of teenagers and twenty-somethings sincerely addicted to a drug that lets them disbelieve in everything traditionally associated with society and its stale, bullshit version of achievement.
T2 does have that signature combination of Irvine Welsh’s writing and Danny Boyle’s direction, meaning there are visual tics and trademarks that you’ll recognise, and the performances are solid all the way down the cast list – something that’s perhaps remarkable twenty years on is exactly how familiar each of the characters are from the first Trainspotting – Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle at least have all had separate, highly defined careers, so seeing them slip back into characters from so early in their trajectories reminds us of their pedigree as actors.
That said, there’s a bland zone in the mid-section of T2 which feels like the gap left by the absence of the Porno plotline. The interaction that takes its place – Begbie breaking out of prison and hunting for Renton, Spud finding a way to finally kick his habit, and become productive at first through the building of a brothel and eventually through the creative retelling of the gang’s early lives (the conceit being that he writes the original Trainspotting) – is all interesting enough, and delivered with that combination of Welsh and Boyle that makes it eminently watchable (there’s even an updated, fairly crowbarred-in version of the ‘Choose Life’ speech without which it’s arguable that this wouldn’t be a ‘Trainspotting movie’), but as a way of passing over two hours, the mid-section feels fairly saggy and in need of more plot. Of course, it’s entirely, and fairly persuasively arguable that the plotlessness is the plot, that these characters, after a single bright moment in their youth, have more or less stagnated the last twenty years away – as Spud says of Renton’s gift to him of £4,000 – ‘What’m I gonna do with £4,000? I’m a fuckin’ junkie!’ – and Spud certainly goes on to prove his point, inasmuch as he proves it’s his friends that make his life bearable, and without the rest of them, and without Renton in particular, heroin was the only friend who stayed with him. With the return to his life of his human friends, Spud makes the long and difficult journey from the brink of suicide to make something of his life. In fact, that seems to be the recurring theme of the Trainspotting movies – when these characters are separated, they idle, they drift and the circle the drain of the life they refuse to choose. When they come together, however dysfunctional their coming-together might be, particular inasmuch as Begbie’s more a force of nature than a mate, things start gelling for them, things start moving in the right direction. But their time within each other’s circles almost necessarily comes with an expiration date, because it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy of their lives that ‘first there is an opportunity, then there is a betrayal’ – their personalities, for all they save each other, drag each other in some coherent direction and deliver some degree of success, inevitably begin to grate on each other, and someone, sometime will make the Judas move, betray the rest of them, and split the group again for as long as it takes for the stars to realign again.
Viewed that way, you can make a case for T2 as a coherent successor movie to the original Trainspotting, particularly when you look at the journey of the people in each movie that make the Judas move. And certainly, you should see T2 before you die. Yes, it’s lacking a coherence, an energy, and largely a soundtrack that propelled the original, but again, that’s the story at the heart of these characters’ lives – their need of each other, but constant inability to keep the magic going beyond the point of temptation, beyond the moment when they possibly could betray one another and make the grab for personal, individual advancement.
Is T2 as good a movie as the original Trainspotting? Mmmm tough to say – it largely depends on whether you still actively enjoy a movie when its plotlessness is more or less the point. Certainly the performances are just as strong twenty years on, if not actually stronger, the actors matured in vinegar, learning, experience and age. That it’s the story of a group of men who could ‘succeed’ if they’d only do the thing for which they have such disdain – choose life – and who, because they don’t, and because they need some unsustainable critical mass to get anything positive done in their lives are self-destined to continually fail, is something that comes through more clearly after twenty years than it did in the original. Without the ‘sincere heroin addiction’ as a viable alternative though, the Trainspotting gang, while still accurately pricking the societal misery and pomposity of what constitutes ‘Life,’ are left without a good enough answer to the question ‘If not Life, then what?’
Their version of ‘What’ is what T2 shows us. ‘What’ is ambling from scheme to scheme, trying to choose a different kind of life and make it for themselves, and ultimately, mostly fail. Compared to the knife-edge, spoon-filled, music-driven, top-of-the-world fucked-up feeling of heroin addiction, and the original Trainspotting as its creative ambassador to the audience, their answer, their alternative in T2 doesn’t feel anywhere near good enough, however messed-up ‘Life’ might be.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk