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Posted: March 23, 2017

With ‘T2 Trainspotting,’ a watershed movie gets the sequel it deserves

Written by: Wire Services

 

This image released by TriStar Pictures shows, from left, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan McGregor and Anjela Nedyalkova in a scene from "T2: Trainspotting." (Jaap Buitendijk/Sony - TriStar Pictures via AP)

This image released by TriStar Pictures shows, from left, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan McGregor and Anjela Nedyalkova in a scene from “T2: Trainspotting.” (Jaap Buitendijk/Sony – TriStar Pictures via AP)

‘Trainspotting” became an unlikely cultural touchstone when it was released in 1996. What should have been a downbeat, depressing story about a bunch of Scottish heroin addicts somehow became a spirited if cynical portrait of Thatcher-era Britain. And the movie was a stylistic triumph, introducing director Danny Boyle’s nervy, bold, often witty visual sense to a generation already primed for that approach by Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”

As exhilarating as “Trainspotting” was as a piece of directorial derring-do, it was the characters – brought to life in John Hodge’s crackerjack adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel – that made the film an instant classic. Led by Ewan McGregor’s Mark Renton, a junkie whose unsuccessful attempts to get clean formed the Sisyphean spine of the narrative, Welsh’s bleary band of ne’er-do-wells were alternately charismatic, heart-rending, fascinating and repulsive.

According to Boyle, he’d always wanted to do a sequel to “Trainspotting,” which ended with Renton making off with more than his share of the ill-gotten gains of a drug deal. The problem was that, 10 years later, his ensemble of actors looked too young and healthy to play hard-bitten middle-aged former and practicing drug addicts convincingly.

Even 21 years later, McGregor and his co-stars still look improbably hale and hearty in “T2 Trainspotting,” a follow-up that captures the brio and brotherly angst and affection of its predecessor, if not its clarion sense of urgency. Having gotten sober (and married) in the Netherlands, Renton returns to Scotland, where he renews his ties with Simon, aka Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and, in one of the movie’s most amusingly choreographed sequences, the hotheaded Begbie (Robert Carlyle).

Like all reunions, this one is fraught with unresolved tensions and past grievances, as well as soul-crushing guilt. True to “Trainspotting’s” core ethic, it’s also subject to a lot of self-conscious analysis about 21st-century dislocation and the dangers of nostalgia, which at one point a character compares to being “a tourist in your own past.”

Although “Trainspotting” was his breakout film, Boyle has gone on to prove his bona fides with such hits as “Slumdog Millionaire” and the opening ceremony of the London Summer Olympics. Fluent, adroit and alert, he’s skillful to the point of being virtually incapable of making a bad film.

“T2” bristles with his signature flourishes – an early scene features funny on-screen titles to help translate Begbie’s haggis-thick Scottish burr – as well as quick nods to the original film, whose signature scenes (Renton’s manic grin through the windshield of a car that’s almost killed him; the Worst Toilet in Scotland) are recapitulated with playful reverence. Once again, Hodge has written a clever script full of quicksilver references and timely jokes that cast a jaundiced eye on pre-Brexit Britain, technology, rampant consumerism and the “great wave of gentrification (that) has yet to engulf us,” as Simon says, referring to the lonely bar he manages while embroiling his Bulgarian girlfriend, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), is sexual blackmail schemes.

Shot with verve and sensitivity by Anthony Dod Mantle, “T2” is spiked with lots of flashbacks to the boys’ youth – often by way of lyrically scratchy home movies – that begin to make even their most sordid exploits ring with artisanal authenticity. The challenge here, as in the first film, is not to flinch from their depravity, but to humanize them enough that viewers still manage to care.

That’s far easier where Spud is concerned – Bremner infuses him with gawky, long-limbed vulnerability. It’s less effective when it comes to Simon and Begbie, whose nastiness can’t be erased by occasional erudition or grim slapstick humor.

As ever, McGregor makes for a sympathetic protagonist and reasonably trustworthy guide through a world most filmgoers never hope to see up close. The question is whether even “Trainspotting’s” most rabid admirers will feel compelled to take another trippy journey to the other side.

Its virtuosity, wit, fleet performances and cool self-awareness notwithstanding, “T2” doesn’t feel like a necessary film as much as a respectful and respectable exercise in fan service. It’s “Beauty and the Beast” for filmdom’s edgier other half. They’re getting a terrific movie in the bargain, even if the stakes feel exponentially lower this time around.

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