“Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here,” Sick Boy tells Renton at one point. It’s a neat summation of T2’s themes, themes of home and memory and pining for better days. But the line, delivered in a scenic location familiar from Trainspotting, could also be read as a criticism of this sequel. After all, the only reason to see T2, the only reason T2 was made, is because its predecessor was one of cinema’s great indie success stories, and a sequel – even a sequel nobody seems to have asked for – will attract nostalgic interest. A pleasant surprise, then, that T2, while never even daring to reach for the heights of Trainspotting, is at the very least not a complete disgrace.
We rejoin the original cast 20 years after Trainspotting and Renton’s betrayal of Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie after a minor drug deal. That betrayal hangs over the film like a pall, informing most of the character interactions and what becomes the main plot. It makes sense that Renton’s betrayal is the driving force of the film, but what doesn’t make sense are all the other references to the original. T2 offers a constant stream of callbacks and cutaways to Trainspotting, and they do nothing but remind us of a better film. It is as if Danny Boyle is well aware that T2 is not as good as Trainspotting, and thinks that if he keeps referencing it, we might forget.
T2 is not as good as Trainspotting, but it is by no means a bad film. The humour is by turns dark and broad, with one sequence in a Loyalist social club being a real highlight. The cast, in dusting off these 20 year old characters, age them well while retaining what made them great back in 1996. Ewen Bremner’s Spud, especially, is a joy to watch. While he still has elements of his youthful verbal diarrhea, but he is wearier and more bitter. Spud becomes the emotional heart of the film; if Renton is the character we all remember from Trainspotting after 20 years, then Spud is the one we’ll be remembering in another 20.
It isn’t just the characters who have changed: Edinburgh is in many ways a different place, too. After watching Trainspotting, you might be forgiven for believing Scotland’s capital to be a horrible place to live. Part of T2’s mission statement seems to be to change this misconception. The theme here is home. T2 sets about showing us that Edinburgh made these characters who they are, for better or worse. There is also a sideline in nostalgia; shared memories, signified by snippets of grainy home videos, help these old friends to forget past differences.
While watching T2, I was reminded in a strange way of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. Both are films counting in 90s nostalgia to make a quick buck; but, more, importantly, both attempt to say something about a world that seems to have moved on without them, ultimately prove their own irrelevance, and yet are entertaining in their own way. T2 is not the instant classic of its predecessor. It has neither the style nor the teeth of Trainspotting. But is never less than watchable, and I suppose that’ll do.