** Includes spoilers **
Everyone knows that sequels are rubbish – with the exception of a few films like the Godfather or Evil Dead follow ups – they generally disappoint. The trouble is when the first movie in a series is good, the second is bound to fail in comparison. And it is for this reason that I really wanted T2 Trainspotting to succeed where most sequels don’t – I desperately wanted it to live up to it’s hype, I wanted it to be good…
Trainspotting is one of my favourite films – it was darkly funny, had a great cast and soundtrack, and more than this, it captured the imagination of a generation perfectly upon it’s release in 1995; this was the Britpop generation – my generation – and influenced much of my formative, teenage years. It was one of the first certificate 18 films I saw at the cinema, although I was just 15 at the time of it’s release. It is also one of the rare occasions where the film version was better than the original book that inspired it (although the book is still incredibly good). The only other times I can think of where this has happened is Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist, Godfather (again!) or pretty much anything that Stephen King has ever written.
With this in mind, I had high hopes for T2 and as I sat in the cinema (the very same cinema where I saw the first film 20 years ago – Peckham Multiplex) my anticipation and excitement levels were somewhat on the high side. The film starts out very much how you’d expect and hope; all characters are introduced in a montage of slickly edited vignettes, taken from a variety of camera angles and accompanied by a cool selection of tunes – all handpicked to please the target audience (people like me, basically). And this is great for 10 minutes or so, but this leads to the main problem with the film; we already know that Danny Boyle can do this, he could do this in his sleep – with T2 he has played it safe to appease fans of the original film. Which completely goes against the vibe Trainspotting, which was edgy and intended to shock. Whereas Trainspotting refused to compromise, T2 does.
One of the strengths of the previous film, was the element of mystery that it left us with – what would happen next in the lives of these characters? This what happened next? element is completely ruined by this sequel, which completely lacks the biting social commentary of the original, other than maybe to tell us that we will get old and cease to be relevant anymore. And even this was summed up more succinctly and with with more humour in Trainspotting previously by Sickboy and Renton:
Sickboy: “At one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever.”
Renton: “So you’re saying we all get old and then we can’t hack it anymore. That’s you’re theory?”
This simple exchange in effect rendered this sequel redundant before it was even made.
T2 is a wasted opportunity at best, the plot is non-existent and full of gaping gaps in the logic. An example of this is when Begbie escapes from prison and and returns home to his wife and son; the police do not even bother to check if he has returned there, and there is seemingly no urgency to apprehend him. Any faults in the storyline are papered over by constantly self-referencing the previous film – both with re-staged scenes and musical cues and interludes. There are even nods to other cult films by the director, including Shallow Grave and 28 Days Later thrown in for good measure – and although at first this is fun , the constant repetition of this trick soon becomes tiresome and then annoying. This is Trainspotting-by-numbers – unlike it’s predecessor it takes no risks and has little to say – it’s a case of style over substance.
Another problem for me it that some of the characters have clearly been hanging out in Hollywood for too long, and barely seem to have aged in the 20 years that have passed since the first film was shot and set; at the age of 36 – I now appear older than most of the cast who are at least 10 years my senior. Furthermore, Begbie and Spud have been reduced to ridiculous caricatures of their previous roles; Spud gurning and grimacing knowingly to the audience throughout, while Begbie has lost all of the sinister, explosive menace from the original, and is reduced to nothing more than a pantomime villain here.
This film outstays it’s welcome by about half an hour and whereas Trainspotting rattled through scenes at a rapidly blistering pace and benefitted for doing so, T2 is simply too long, over-bloated and self-indulgent, which is a shame.
I’m probably too harsh on this film (perhaps because I loved the first one so much) and there are still some very enjoyable moments in there. Two really good comic scenes that stand out are set in an almost bungled robbery in a working men’s club, and a chance encounter in a nightclub toilet. Plus there is nostalgia to be found here and reminiscences aplenty – which is no bad thing – particularly as it makes you remember just how good the original actually was.
The film gets some bonus points for explaining the meaning of the title (missing from the first film and only available to fans who have read the book until now) and also for not sticking to the plot of Irvin Welsh’s follow up book, Porno, which might have turned this movie into a complete trainwreck (see what I did there?).
Although an unnecessary sequel that distracts from the original in my opinion, fans of Renton, Sickboy et al will still rightly want to check out T2 Trainspotting – but let’s just hope they don’t make a third instalment.