It’s not often that you see a sequel to a drama. It’s obviously not unheard of, but typically you don’t get to check back in on the lives of the characters we see in more dramatic works. And you especially don’t often see a sequel that comes decades after the original. And yet, we have one. I feel like when they first announced that they were making a sequel to Trainspotting, one of the most beloved and successful indie films of all time, people were a little wary. It seemed like a strange idea. But then they started saying that Danny Boyle would be back to direct, and that the original cast would be back, and people got a little more interested. But still not completely sold. Because Trainspotting is a very complete film. We meet our lovable group of heroin addicts trying to survive in Edinburgh. We see them kind of grow as people, have weird little adventures, and are given a sliver of hope by seeing Ewan McGregor’s Mark escape the vicious cycle of life at the end of the film, taking the money that the gang were more than likely just going to blow on heroin, and running off to try and reinvent his life into something better. It’s a great ending, and one that you wouldn’t think would need to get checked up on. True, Irvine Welsh wrote a sequel to the novel the film was based on, but that’s all about the boys running back into each other while working on porno movies, not exactly what you would expect. So T2 had a pretty big hurdle to cross, having to make a story that’s both interesting and worthwhile, a story that makes it clear that there was actually a reason for this film to exist, and not just be some sort of nostalgic cash-grab. And, against common sense, they actually succeeded in doing that.
T2 picks up twenty years after the events of the first Trainspotting, and we’re given a quick montage showing us what the various characters are up to. Simon “Sickboy” Williamson is still running cons, trying to blackmail prominent men when they sleep with his prostitute girlfriend Veronika while trying to scrape enough money together to open a brothel. Daniel “Spud” Murphy is still an addict, constantly going through phases of sobriety and lamenting the fact that his ex and child refuse to see him. Francis “Franco” Begbie has been in prison since the first movie, and is hatching a plan to escape by faking a shanking and fleeing from the hospital. And Mark Renton is living a decent life in Amsterdam. He’s married, has a decent job, and is healthy. He’s off heroin and has made a good life. But he’s decided to visit Edinburgh, and check in on his family and friends. He finds Spud in his apartment, preparing to commit suicide, and Mark saves him. Which doesn’t really make Spud happy, and after some tense arguing the two realize that they’re happy to see one another. Spud and Mark have a nice time together, and Spud recommends that Mark goes to see Simon. Which he does. And it’s not a good call. Simon is furious at Mark for abandoning them and taking the money that could have changed his life, and the two end up fighting. But after they’re done Simon realizes that he could get some revenge on Mark by conning him. So he begins weaving a sob story, trying to get Mark to invest in his brothel idea. And, surprisingly, Mark agrees. Which is because he’s not really here to just hang out. It turns out Mark is getting divorced, is about to be laid off, and has realized that this nice life he’s created is completely fabricated, and falling apart. So he’s returned to Edinburgh, and has decided that Simon’s plan is as good as any he’s come up with, so he agrees to help out.
So Simon, Mark, Spud, and Veronika begin working on transforming Simon’s rundown club into a high-end brothel, becoming friends again and generally having a great time. Which is of course when Franco escapes prison, and is thrown back into the scene. He’s still furious at Mark, and desperately wants to kill him. But, he doesn’t know that Mark is back in town, and when he goes to see Simon, he isn’t told. Simon actually keeps this a secret from Franco, but also doesn’t tell Mark that Franco is out and looking for him. So things keep progressing, with Simon and Mark simultaneously becoming better friend while also competing for the affections of Veronika, Franco struggles to find a new life outside of prison, and Spud begins writing down all of his stories, becoming a sort of poet. And things really take a change when they successfully manage to trick the EU into giving them a massive loan, since they lied and said that they were turning the bar into a bed and breakfast to reinvigorate the area and improve the economy in Edinburgh. So now they have a bunch of money, and are put back in the same position as the last film. Which is when Franco finally finds Mark at a club, and comes to kill the group. There’s a tense couple of scenes between all of the former friends at the club, and the movie ends with them all ready to begin a new chapter of their lives, living and remaining friends while still struggling to find purpose in their lives.
I was actually a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. And it kind of surprisingly made a great double-feature with Raw. I certainly went into this movie with a lot of doubt. This movie had to do a whole lot of work to convince me that it was necessary. Trainspotting has an incredibly solid ending, and I was in no way convinced that this movie needed to be made. But I was proven wrong. Because almost everything in this movie clicks for me. Danny Boyle has been a very hit or miss director with me, but I really think he was firing on all cylinders here. It never got too flashy and remained a very character-driven film that certainly showed the growth he’s had as a director since the 90s, but you can also still see the passion and reverence that he has for the subject matter. You simultaneously get the Danny Boyle of Trainspotting while also giving us a more modern Boyle, and it worked very well. It was also fantastic to see the cast back, putting in truly terrific performances. Despite all having their own careers, I think all four of the principal actors in this film will be most remembered for their Trainspotting roles, and they did those roles justice. They slipped right back into the roles, bringing new life and depth to these characters. They were no longer just dumb kids, but there was a magic when they got back together that was undeniable. You can tell that the characters and the actors’ smiles of joy are legitimate when they get up to their old shenanigans, slipping back into the roles like well-worn clothes.
And that familiarity with the roles is what really made this movie for me. The idea of checking back in on these characters from such a beloved movie is a dangerous one, because you have to beg the question of if it’s necessary. And they made a story that made it necessary. This movie wouldn’t have been interesting at all if we checked back in on the boys and they were all doing great. But it also wouldn’t have been interesting if they were doing just as bad as they were in the original. They’ve all grown as characters, had twenty years of changes. Some more than others, but they’re different people. And yet, believably different people. They’ve all had a lot happen to them, and they’ve changed. And yet, when they get back together, it all comes back to them. They start trying to relive the glory years, even if those years happen to have been them addicted to heroin. Because these are a group of people who have to come to terms with the fact that they wasted their youth. The stupid decisions they made when they were little more than kids have had profound and indelible effects on their lives. Mark thought that escaping it all with some ill-gotten money would have saved him. But it didn’t. It certainly made his life better than if he had stayed behind and blown it all on more heroin, but it didn’t make him happy. What made him happy was reuniting with Spud and Simon. They’re all constantly blaming each other for the lives they’ve led, but in the end they realize that it was all their own faults. They made stupid decisions as children, and those decisions have gone on to control their adult lives. Which is a very true and interesting way to have handled this film. It didn’t give us a complete downer of an ending where they all revert back to addicts, and it didn’t give us an unrealistically happy ending where they become rich. Instead we got a realistic ending where they’re doing fine, but better because they’re together. They’ve let their decisions define themselves, but also have found ways to make it work. Which is probably the best outcome any of them could have asked for. They’re back together, ready to move on from their past and continue living their lives, not by ignoring their decisions, but by accepting them.
T2 Trainspotting was written by John Hodge, directed by Danny Boyle, and released by TriStar pictures, 2017.