One of the most anticipated sequels of the year, if not the decade, arrived in cinemas last month as Danny Boyle returned to the depraved world of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie. It’s been a twenty-one year gap since the 1996 classic but T2 Trainspotting seems to have satisfied the expectations of most fans and critics. Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus states that “T2 Trainspotting adds an intoxicating, emotionally resonant postscript to its classic predecessor, even without fully recapturing the original’s fresh, subversive thrill.” Definitely an impressive achievement among the endless prequels, sequels and remakes saturating the market.
Boyle’s original masterpiece hit screens worldwide with the force of a smashed pint glass right at the peak of ‘Cool Britannia’. Its shocking, no-holds barred script offended a few dozen and thrilled a few million while propelling outstanding British musical talent to world stardom with the greatest soundtrack of the 90’s. Yet T2 often feels slightly sanitised when compared with the bloody knife-wielding violence and vomit-inducing toilet-dive that outraged society upon the release of the first installment.
T2 feels aimless for much of its running time and several of the script’s narrative threads spool out early with little payoff. It’s really in the second half that the film receives a shot of adrenaline as everyone’s favourite Scottish psychopath is unleashed on his prey. Boyle ultimately delivers the goods, but they lack ‘the fresh subversive thrill’ that most critics and fans were expecting.
Ultimately there is no getting away from the fact that T2 is one more addition to the endless hordes of reanimated cinematic corpses that swarm this decade’s entertainment landscape. Although it is grossly unfair to drop the film into the same category as billion-dollar blockbuster franchises like Star Wars or Jurrassic World that thrive on the toxic fumes of pure nostalgia.
Having said that, Boyle does play with his audience’s fondness for the original film. Quick shots of Trainspotting’s classic scenes are sliced into its sequel’s reels at just the right nostalgia-inducing moments. Renton even re-enacts his Edinburgh sprint and near-miss car collision alongside blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos from Kelly MacDonald and Irvine Welsh. Yet T2 is nowhere near as emotionally manipulative as its aforementioned Hollywood counterparts.
If anything, much of T2’s nostalgia actually serves a thematic purpose. It’s there to underscore the ravages of middle-age that afflict the film’s main characters. The Edinburgh lads spend much of the movie chasing old highs they’ll never again be capable of reaching. Their bodies have caught up with them and they’re only now realising that their drug-ravaged vessels are physically past their sell-by-date.
If truth be told, the constant longing for the past that flows through so many of T2’s scenes is arguably Boyle’s statement on the modern world. The film swaps heroin for nostalgia as everyone injects themselves with a hit of the past from Renton and Sick Boy’s celebration of footballers from decades ago to nightclubbers raving to the classic hits that engulf the dancefloor.
Whether deliberate or coincidental, it’s during these scenes that T2 resonates most profoundly its audiences. The omnipresent nostalgia chimes with 2016’s battle cries of “Make America Great Again”, the almost monthly mourning of deceased musicians, and endless online articles of 10 Things You’ll Get If You Grew Up in the 90’s. Just like the fictional Scotland of Renton and company, our modern world seems to be dominated by a yearning to escape from the political and economic horrors bleeding through our TVs and smartphones. We turn our backs on the chaos and seek solace in our past through remakes, sequels, reissues, reunion tours, re-releases and anything else the culture industry can repackage and re-offer. Just look at the popularity of a show like Stranger Things! To paraphrase Sick Boy, we’re tourists in our own youth.