Danny Boyle’s 1996 adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel was, and remains, iconic. Acerbic, rebellious, politically aware, heartfelt and joyously witty, it was a brutal shock of energy to British cinema. Fuelled by the high of Cool Britannia, its story of heroin addicts revolting against the restrictions of everyday life was visionary. And now, twenty years on, Boyle has returned to the world and its characters. The resulting creation is not as animated or as powerful as the original, but has an entirely different quality – one of quiet melancholy and bittersweet sentimentality.
T2 sees life after the comedown, bringing the old crew back together. Written by John Hodges again and taking material from Welsh’s follow up novel Porno, the story blends together crime, revenge and frequent trips down memory lane. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) chose life, moving to Amsterdam, getting clean and joining the hordes of office workers. But when his plan goes sideways, he returns back to Edinburgh to face old ghosts he betrayed twenty years ago. Here he’s reunited with coke-addled criminal Sickboy (Johnny Lee Miller), psychopath Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and the loveable but fragile Spud (Ewen Bremner). When Sickboy brings Mark into a get rich quick plot involving robbery and brothels, the gang comes crashing back together. What results is an enjoyable drama that sees grey haired men facing their own mistakes and those they mistreated.
It’s a marked change in tone from the original, substituting youthful anger with ageing pessimism and regret. Gone is the quest for blissful freedom. Instead, the film has this sad recurring image of worn men who are aware of their own misspent youth. All of them want what Mark found – a wife, a job and a stable income. There’s a great deal of sadness that they never found what they were looking for. When they were young they couldn’t find the release that they needed, and now that they’re older, they regret that they missed the chance for normality. Spud is central to this, Ewen Bremner using his great talent to show a man that was left behind by everyone else but heroin and his memories. Deeply thoughtful and introspective, T2 shines light on men not looking for freedom but for comfort.
One thing that does remain the same is Boyle’s absolute dedication to style. From Spud falling in slow motion off of a building to Renton being trapped in a glass box bathroom, spectacle is paramount. However, the images do feel like they’ve been crafted with different meaning. While the frenetic visuals of the original represented the character’s drug-fuelled lives, this time they feel like longstanding after effects. They seem to be the hangover from their past lives that won’t quite leave. The effect is something disorientating and poetic. Like the people, the visuals are the same as they were but slightly different.
It’s a film about looking back and pondering. While many will be hoping for something current and devastatingly powerful, this is not that film. T2 is slower, looking at a group from a particular time that never moved on. It doesn’t look at Brexit, post truth and alternative facts, nor is it a cash grab nostalgia adventure. What Boyle has done is return to characters that have been weakened by the rapidly changing scenery and regret the things they once did for kicks. It may not be as era defining or as impacting as it once was, but it’s an honest, funny and welcome reunion.