Jonny Lee Miller
1 Hr., 57 Mins.
ack in 1996, when Elastica was still relevant and America was collectively fawning over the melodramas of The English Patient, the heroin-addicted, ne’er-do-well characters populating Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting frequently took jabs at the “choose life” mantra popularized by a 1980s drug campaign. This came to inspire a now-celebrated voice-over monologue delivered by our anti-hero, Ewan McGregor. “Choose life,” he sarcastically mused as a swirl of kinetic images backed him. “Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc
players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance.”
He goes on. Then he reaches a closer exemplifying the wonders of a college screenwriting course. “Choose life,” he scoffed. “Why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?”
There are reasons, though, which pertain to why Trainspotting became such a sensation two decades ago. The predominant one has to do with how exuberantly it captured the highs of being young and carefree without ever sentimentalizing the rigorously self-destructive behavior of its characters. It, if edgily, encapsulated the neuroses of a generation without leaning too heavily into contrived romanticism or tiresome cynicism.
Its 2017 sequel, which I’d call long-awaited if it were actually wanted or necessary, is about as good as its predecessor. The characters have done little growing up in the 20 years since we last saw them. Danny Boyle’s direction is as unhinged as ever. John Hodge’s writing is perhaps even more acerbic than it was in 1996. The performances retain the same sort of refreshing looseness and unpredictability that have helped these characters last in the public consciousness. Its realism-meets-the-avant-garde visual style, which recalls the kinetic visuals long-associated with ‘90s MTV, is still unbounded. Hodge even recreates that aforementioned “choose life” monologue, which is updated in order to throw criticisms in the direction of Instagram and Facebook.
But because T2 neither exceeds our expectations nor proves itself a disappointment, was it ever all that essential to make? Because its counterpart helped define its decade and this sequel has already failed to make an imprint on the 2010s, its existence is more an expensive bookend than a requisite step forward.
It picks up a couple decades after we saw Trainspotting’s central characters last — this film’s set sometime in the middle of 2016 — and few of them have bettered themselves since then. Mark (McGregor), the most stable (but barely) of the bunch way back then, is now married and has two kids, though that situation’s on the rocks. The bleach-blonde Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) has traded heroin for cocaine, taken up blackmailing to supplement his finances, and started running a pub, which none of the locals have taken to. Spud (Ewen Bremner) has continued struggling with addiction, and as such has been left behind by his wife (Shirley Henderson) and child; Franco (Robert Carlyle) is still in prison for a crime he committed at the end of Trainspotting.
These men haven’t seen each other in years, and their estrangement is further reinforced by the fact that Mark stole $16,000 from his friends after the big heroin deal pulled off during the first film. But Mark seems ready to make amends, and after he serendipitously interrupts Spud attempting to kill himself (and gets word from his wife that she wants a divorce), he decides it might be best to try to healthily close out a major chapter in his life. Maybe he’ll leave Franco out of the reunion, though — the unstable prisoner still thinks about the $16,000 he lost, and still thinks about how he’s going to get revenge after his time in the slammer’s up.
Most of T2 finds Mark pinballing between his friends. Most time, however, is spent with Sick Boy, with whom he schemes to start a brothel. (They intend to covertly renovate the second floor of the latter’s pub.) Also seasoning the scenery is Sick Boy’s younger, Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), who mucks up the slowly building stability between these once-close friends by showing romantic interest in Mark.
T2 moves about routinely, offering more of the same. Because I liked Trainspotting when I first saw it a handful of years ago, this isn’t entirely a bad thing. These characters, vacuous and desperate at they are, are engaging, and Boyle knows how to effectively present their misadventures. Whether catching up was ever all that needed is a different story. B-