T2: Trainspotting ***

Danny Boyle’s sequel to his 1996 breakout hit is a different kind of movie, and works because of it. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“Trainspotting” (1996) was a jolt of a movie, an unpleasant inside look at heroin addiction and the hardships it entails. Anyone expecting more of the same in “T2: Trainspotting,” however, should be warned: This is a different kind of movie. Because it has to be. It’s slower, more measured and thoughtful. In some ways it’s about how addicts struggle to move on. But it’s also about friendship, loyalty, betrayal, the women who get in the way and the old friend who’s out to kill you.

The original ended with its hero, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), betraying his mates and leaving Scotland with 16,000 pounds that they were supposed to split. “T2” picks up 20 years later as Mark returns to Edinburgh after his mother dies. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is a failed husband and father who’s still struggling with heroin addiction. Simon, aka “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller), is a cocaine addict who runs a failing bar and blackmails businessmen who cheat on their wives. And to Mark’s delight, psychopath Frank Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison – at least for now.

Mark eventually reunites with his old buds, some more pleasantly than others. The adrenaline rush of the original – fueled by a junkie’s need for a fix, and the lengths he’ll go to get it – is supplanted here by adults who know heroin is bad, but aren’t sure what to do with themselves to avoid it. So it’s with the omnipresent temptation of falling back on the junk that Mark helps Spud stay straight, and later teams with Sick Boy and his girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova) for small time crime. Then Begbie breaks out of prison and will stop at nothing to kill Mark. The script by John Hodge (again based on the work of Irvine Welsh) is a bit aimless, but then so are the characters, so the real negative effect of this is that it impedes escalating dramatic tension.

Director Danny Boyle utilizes the quick pace, high-energy style of the original here sparsely, and to limited effect. Mark’s “choose life” rant in a restaurant feels out of context, freeze frames during a fight with Sick Boy don’t work, and crazed visualizations don’t have the desired impact. Worse, the thick Scottish brogue remains hard to understand. I don’t care that they’re speaking English – the movie needs subtitles.

The most intriguing element of “T2” is Mark’s character arc. It is human nature that we can change our scenery but not necessarily who we are – our demons sometimes follow us no matter how hard we try to leave them behind. Accepting your issues is supposed to be the key to happiness, but as we learn from watching Mark, that’s merely the beginning of the process.

As a whole, “T2: Trainspotting” is compelling viewing. The pop soundtrack is catchy, the performances are inspired, and the movie resonates with an unsettling tone that renders the final product far from dull. It’s not quite the sequel you expect, but it is a fitting next chapter for these characters.

Did you know?
Bremner played Mark in the 1995 stage version of “Trainspotting,” but the producers wanted McGregor as the lead in the movie, which led to Bremner taking over as Spud.