Danny Boyle's 1996 adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting perfectly captured a generation of smack-addled youth slipping through the cracks of Scottish society with humour, compassion and grit, then dressed it up in the swaggering bravado of Britpop culture thanks to a killer soundtrack and cast of breakout stars.
Twenty years later, the city of Edinburgh is gentrifying, the original actors are no longer a gaggle of unknowns and both film technology and Boyle's career have evolved considerably. Yet, beneath the undeniable Hollywood sheen cast over sequel T2 Trainspotting, the heart remains — a little worse for the wear after two decades of skag addiction, but nevertheless still pounding loudly to the beat of "Lust for Life."
The new instalment finds the old gang reunited by the lure of a preposterous get rich quick scheme that — despite bearing significant resemblance to the one that tore the lads apart at the end of the first film — still proves too strong to resist for Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and the batshit-crazy-as-ever Begbie.
T2 is based on Welsh's own sequel Porno, but it's hard to shake the feeling that the story merely exists to pander to fans' nostalgia. Subtle musical cues (a faint "Perfect Day" in the background, Iggy Pop's already immortalized "Lust for Life"), familiar settings (Renton's childhood bedroom, Edinburgh's winding streets, different-but-the-same pubs, clubs and revolting toilets) and verbal repetition (like, say, Begbie calling everyone and their grandmother a "doss cunt") will be appreciated by viewers with a detailed knowledge of the original, but might largely be lost on and out of place to anyone else.
Certainly, at times, the nostalgia is heavy-handedly heaped on (like an updated "Choose life" monologue in the middle of a romantic dinner, or a trip to the Scottish countryside to pay homage to their late pal Tommy), but for the most part, T2 is purposefully self-aware and inwardly referential enough to get away with it.
That blurry line between nostalgia and choosing life in the present is addressed head-on by Sick Boy himself during the aforementioned trip to the countryside. He declares Renton a "tourist in your own youth," and from there the film only becomes an increasingly meta comment on the cyclical nature of human life.
And while the perfect confluence of subculture captured in 1996 has long since aged, morphed and dissipated, on paper, T2 still retains the makings of a powerful story; rich themes of youth, masculinity and betrayal could be the makings of a fucking Shakespeare play, but by the time they play out onscreen in 2017, everything's just a little older, sadder and tired.
We're left with a satisfying-but-not-great sequel and the inescapable truth and depressing reality that history can repeat itself at any moment — and probably will. (Sony)