Trainspotting 2: Electric Boogaloo

(That’s a joke, of course. It’s T2, which Danny Boyle admits is a reference to the film of the same name which the lads would consider the best sequel of all time. And they’d also enjoy irritating James Cameron who didn’t trademark the title.)

When the trailer for this dropped, Gerry and I both said, “Meh. Not interested in seeing these guys old and fat.” Looking at the poster, our lack of enthusiasm seemed justified.

But let’s face it: we’re all getting old and fat (or struggling mightily against it). And I really, really loved the first one. I consider it Danny Boyle’s masterpiece (and he’s made a lot of very good films). So I knew I was going to see it anyway.

You don’t have to see the first, but it would hugely improve your chances of enjoying this. I want to say this is a love letter to the first but that isn’t quite right. It’s about deeply (deeply, deeply, deeply) flawed characters trying to figure their lives out post addiction, and watching the first will show you just how many regrets they’re living with. 

It’s 20 years after Mark betrayed his mates and scarpered with 16,000 quid (sorry, these films are unapologetically UK and make me think in slang). He’s returned from Amsterdam to right that wrong, which is easier said than done.

The film opens with Mark (Ewan McGregor) on a treadmill at the gym, running to “Shotgun Mouthwash” by High Contrast, the same throbbing pulse as Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” but at 3/4 the tempo. Mirroring the first film’s opening, but running slower and for less exciting reasons. 

This is why I want to call it a love letter. Almost every scene has shadows or references or homages to the first, some overt, some not (sometimes it’s repeated actions. Sometimes it’s actual scenes projected on the wall). This isn’t because Boyle is lazy; it’s because the main message is that our past haunts us and there’s no escaping it.

Tommy conspicuously absent

So, sorry, no shooting up vicariously. If the defining speech in the first was “choose life” (a litany of all the shallow, capitalistic options offered by modern society (and rejected by junkies)), the monologue that sums up this one is Mark complaining to Simon (Sick Boy, but no one calls him that anymore) that he had a stent inserted (he had a heart attack on the treadmill) and the doctors told him “Good as new, they said. Should last another 30 years, they said. But they didn’t say what to do with those 30 years!” What DO you do when you’re 46 and you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up? (And yes, middle age is more boring than youth, if you’re lucky enough to see it.)

(The “choose life” speech is resurrected and updated in this one, and it’s the cringiest scene of the film. It felt like they were obligated to include it but didn’t know where, so it got shoehorned in just to have it.)

The bits with Begbie (who one reviewer described as “his waistline, his mustache, and his violent streak have all expanded”) do drag on and bloat the running time, but since he’s the driving impetus for the climax I suppose they’re unavoidable. (And in the absence of hard drugs, he’s really the only credible threat to the lads.)  (But Robert Carlyle’s accent is so thick I’m skeptical he’s even speaking English. I resisted using subtitles and got the gist of his scenes from scattered keywords.)

Since I loved the first one, I really enjoyed all the nods. People who skipped it or didn’t like it (in which case I can’t imagine why they’d watch this) will probably find them tedious. 

The last I’ll talk about is the music. Boyle takes his music very seriously (James Gunn remarked in the commentary on Guardians 2 about directors who weirdly add music in post as an afterthought. I would also count Edgar Wright with these two). Music is the invisible star in all his films, boosting the impact of certain scenes exponentially. While I can’t say the music is better in T2, it’s still pretty great. Certainly a refreshing change from the heavily autotuned crap that passes for Top 40 these days. And when Mark finally gives in and plays “Lust for Life” to finish the film, it creates the most beautiful sense of closure I hadn’t realized I was missing. 

(There are also tiny homages to the great musicians we’ve lost since the first, Bowie and Lou Reed, and it’s a nice touch. “That’s what growing old is,” says Boyle, “slowly losing our heroes.”)

If you missed the first or didn’t see why it was so great then this will definitely be a waste of your time. But if you’re like me, and rarely get excited about new movies but love watching old favorites repeatedly, this is the best of both worlds. 

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