Movie Review: ‘T2: Trainspotting’
Director: Danny Boyle
Main Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald
Quick disclaimer; I’ll keep the review spoiler free as for a lot of countries it will be some time before T2: Trainspotting is released.
With the amount of time that’s passed there’s no doubt nostalgia is going to play a big part in selling the tickets for T2: Trainspotting, but this isn’t a Power Rangers reboot, the film is well aware of its relationship with nostalgia. In fact it’s at its core.
In terms of style there are frequent nods to the original, sometimes that’s in the form of flashbacks in 8mm film, or recreating familiar moments. More fundamentally the frenetic presentation of the original film is carried over to this one, freeze frames and jump cuts prevent T2 from becoming a sedate reflection of the character’s middle age. There is a mellowing in tone however, the mad pace is broken up by scenes of sweetness and sadness, each time it returns to the chaos it feels as though it’s grasping for the past – á la mid-life crisis. That may sound like a criticism, but it isn’t. The fact that the style reflects the theme of nostalgia is surely no accident – particularly with a director as seasoned as Danny Boyle.
However, this superficial level of nostalgia is only a vessel for the self-awareness that the film contains. Frequently T2 has moments that illustrate the damage of the rose-tinted nostalgia that the characters continually lean on. Renton (McGregor) and Sick Boy (Lee Miller) are most guilty of it. From bombarding Veronica (Nedyalkova) with tales of George Best, to openly being aware of their desperate sentimentality, the film manages to provide poignant moments of self-reflection, both on its characters and itself. Now all this talk of the film being self-aware may make you roll you eyes, normally the meta approach is lazy and something I myself find to be a bit contrived. T2 manages to buck that trend. The film doesn’t try to boast about how aware it is of its past, there’s no attempt at intellectualising it and cause pretentious undertones.
In regards to the acting the cast are as well suited for the roles as ever. Much like the stylistic tone the performances have a reduced youthful exuberance, the increased experience shows more polish. I wouldn’t say this is ‘better’, just more appropriate. Although, there are fleeting moments where the cast manage to recapture some of that wide-eyed lunacism from the original and it gives a deliberately awkward tone of yearning for the past. Perhaps most intriguingly though is the introduction of Sick Boy’s girlfriend Veronica. She’s the only character who isn’t obsessed with the past – partly because of her age – but she doesn’t have the pessimism that the young versions of the main four had. For the men she’s a gateway to their youth, to her they are the warnings for her future. Anjela Nedyalkova’s portrayal of this dynamic is subtle but brilliantly judged.
This is not to say the film is without its faults. The first of these is the soundtrack, the song choices of the original are iconic and Boyle has a long history of excellently chosen soundtracks. Something about this one was lacking however, with the exception of returning tracks the new ones don’t manipulate their respective scenes with as much influence. It’s not a bad soundtrack, but it doesn’t conjure the same brilliance of the previous one. Additionally, some of the more sedate scenes feel a little out of place. Not poorly made – in fact they were of very high quality – they just felt like they were from a different film. They may have been better served if they’d taken place in a grimy hangout of old, fitting better with the thematic chains of nostalgia.
T2: Trainspotting doesn’t quite reach the iconic heights of its predecessor and it certainly won’t have the cultural impact, but it’s still a very good film. Seldom do we see a sequel that has been given so much care and attention, you can be sure the Danny Boyle didn’t make this film for the cash. The real risk was always that it could get lost in its nostalgia and in some ways, it does. This isn’t a weakness though, it’s its very essence. It uses nostalgia as a device for the characters and story itself. The passing of 20 years is what made this film possible in the first place, it wouldn’t have worked if released soon after the original. Time has given it a story to tell and one to look back on.