What do the following three films all have in common?
A Nightmare on Elm Street, Grease and The Blair Witch Project…
Suffice it to say that they were all highly original, hugely iconic films that spawned utterly abysmal sequels. Indeed, the number of great movies that have had their good reputation tarnished by massively inferior follow-ups is, to coin a phrase, absolutely off-the-chart.
By all accounts Danny Boyle wrestled with this very dilemma when daring to re-kindle the flames of his hugely influential 1996 outing, Trainspotting. Allegedly he and the original cast members having agreed to revisit their original roles, were all feeling the full weight of pressure and expectation upon their now, far more experienced shoulders.
The very good news though is that Danny Boyle’s 2017 sequel, T2 Trainspotting, has not only not tarnished the original’s reputation, but surpassed any expectations that we could reasonably have had for it.
It’s twenty years on, and Mark Renton’s unceremonious flit – £16,000 to the good – has been largely forgotten and confined to history by his former comrades, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie. Everyone’s moved on in their lives, and they laugh heartily about it all now.
Of course, pretty much all of the above is nonsense.
Renton (Ewan McGregor), sheepishly returns to Edinburgh in a bid to reacquaint himself and square things off with his old sparring buddies of yesteryear. Plenty of time has passed, but not much seems to have really changed. Spud (Ewen Bremner) – the only member of the gang, bar Renton, that had seen any of the loot, and had subsequently used his quarter share the only way he knew how, cementing his stature as a hardcore heroin addict – is still fighting his addiction demons. Simon, a.k.a Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) – with a sassy young Eastern European girlfriend in tow, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) – is still a ‘wrongun’ and one of life’s hustlers, albeit on a slightly more adventurous, not to mention controversial stage these days.
And Begbie (Robert Carlyle)? Well, Begbie is still Begbie; holed-up where he belongs and can do the least amount of damage to society, behind bars.
It’s fair to say that Renton’s return ruffles a feather or two as he attempts to reintegrate himself back into the lives of those that he had so unceremoniously left behind all those years back. It’s a return that has evoked an under current of ill-feeling, stirring up thoughts of retribution. With tensions running high, and the spectre of Begbie’s reappearance impossible to rule out even with him apparently safely locked away at Her Majesty’s pleasure, you could, and indeed should expect fireworks from T2, and lots of them.
T2 Trainspotting is a slick piece for sure, and successfully manages to retain all of the punch and swagger of the original, creating some new, highly memorable set-pieces of its own in the process. In addition, the danger of over-playing the chief characteristics of each of its cast members has thankfully been averted; a relief given the propensity for sequels to succumb to the need to create over-blown pastiches of ‘favourite’ characters. That said, Begbie’s larger-than-life persona does sail a little too close to the wind for comfort at times.
Renton may now be deemed a rather divisive character, yet he still somehow manages to be a galvanising presence. Sick Boy remains largely self-centered, whilst Spud cuts a slightly tragic, highly vulnerable figure; the sort that tends to always encourage ground swells of overwhelming good will and support from concerned acquaintances.
Begbie on the other hand remains psychotic and unhinged, all these years on. A most deranged of lunatics and the very last man on earth you’d ever want to share a pint with.
Danny Boyle’s gamble with potentially destroying the rose-tinted legacy of this most cultish of classics has clearly paid off. A long awaited follow-up which should hopefully keep an army of fans satisfied for the next twenty years or so. Beyond that, who knows.
Whether T2 Trainspotting is quite as relevant to, or will have anywhere near the same impact upon a new generation, however – the way that Trainspotting did back in the day – I’m ill-equipped to say, being as I am a part of that previous generation.
Granted, it’s a film sprinkled with in-jokes and subtle references to its predecessor that may be a little lost on those that are not ‘in the know’, but there have certainly been concerted efforts made to bring Trainspotting’s original outlook and ideology into the present day and to a new market. Most notably is a superbly modified take on Renton and Sick Boy’s original ‘Choose Life’ monologue, although its recipient on this occasion, Veronika, seems more bewildered than beguiled by Renton’s passionate reprisal of this most caustic and sarcastic of diatribes.
Gritty, ‘sweary’, and littered with genuinely funny moments throughout, T2 Trainspotting is an excellent blend of high-entertainment, nostalgia, and pertinent modern day social comment. Perhaps not quite up to the standards of the 1996 original, but don’t get too hung up about comparisons. T2 Trainspotting stands more than ably on its own two feet.