In our current age of endless remakes, reboots, and franchising, sequels are a dime a dozen. However, Danny Boyle’s long-anticipated follow-up to his 1996 Trainspotting seems to offer a distinct breath of fresh air, just as the original did over 20 years ago.
In case you’ve forgotten, the ending of Trainspotting seems ripe for a sequel. In fact, it seems all the more enticing because it offers up its conclusion with an air of “take it or leave it,” just as Ewan McGregor’s Renton does with the thick wad of cash he leaves for his pal Spud in a safe-deposit box after stealing it from Begbie and Sick Boy. T2 promises to pick up more or less where we’ve left off, 20 years later. The trailer opens with Sick Boy greeting Renton in an abandoned bar, asking with a shrug, “So, what you been up to?”
As with Trainspotting, T2 borrows from the fiction of Irvine Welsh. While Trainspotting was an adaptation of Welsh’s 1993 novel of the same name, T2 is somewhat looser. The sequel borrows material from Welsh’s 2002 sequel, Porno in addition to some material from the original Trainspotting novel that never made it into the initial film. In this sense, the sequel feels like both a sequel and a footnote—like a “bonus feature” reel of deleted scenes.
While T2 won’t reach US theaters until March 17th, the film has already opened in the UK and across Europe. In a roundup of some of the early reviews, The New York Times reported that the critical consensus has been largely positive. Both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are indicating favorable reviews as well, the latter giving T2 a score of 77% (not too far behind Trainspotting’s 90%).
As with many sequels, much of the praise has come from the relief that the film is not nearly as bad as it could have been. Much of the criticism comes from a vague lamenting that nothing could ever capture the spirit of the original. Many critics have noted a distinctly different pacing in T2, with some calling it slower and others “gentler” than the original.
Writing for The Guardian, Mark Kermode notes that the real distinction between T2 and its predecessor is the dominant theme of aging in the latter film over the violence and drug addiction of the former: “While it may lack the vampiric teeth of its youthful predecessor, it is a worthy sequel to what has become a sacred original, respecting the rough edges of its forerunner while putting middle-aged flesh on the once raw ribcages of its oddly sympathetic subjects.”
Trainspotting though has always been just as concerned with aging as it has been with drugs. As Sick Boy proposes his great “theory of life,” Renton scoffs, “So, we all get old, we can’t hack it anymore, and that’s it?” But it’s also a theory of art, even a theory of the sequel itself. As Sick Boy describes the disappointing later work of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and moments in Sean Connery’s participation in the James Bond franchise: “No it’s not bad, but it’s not great either, is it?”
If nothing else, Trainspotting has always been aware of the problem of living up to society’s expectations—the problem of success and “choosing life”—and that’s what promises to make T2 successful. We’re looking forward to catching it when it’s released in the US.
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