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Trainspotting is such a brash, exuberant, naïve film packed with characters of that ilk that trying to recapture that specific type of magic would be a fool's errand. With Academy Award winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) at the helm, there was never any doubt that T2 Trainspotting would be its own movie, with its own style and cadence.
It takes some getting used to as a viewer, though, because just the sight of any of the four leading characters on their own, let alone together, induces you to immediately harken back to the original's sprightly punk vibrancy. T2 heavily fondles with a nostalgia for its illustrious predecessor, repeatedly tipping its hat to Trainspotting in such a blatant fashion that it ultimately, and sadly, hinders itself.
Set twenty years after the events of Trainspotting, T2 kicks off Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returning to Edinburgh from Amsterdam, where he has been living with his wife. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still struggling to fully wean himself off his heroin addiction, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) has inherited his aunt's pub, but is still dabbling in small crimes, while Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has just broken out of prison.
T2 is at its most enlightening when it wallows and mines in the shadow of Trainspotting, as this is where it generates its mixture of jaded wisdom, pathos, and hope. At these points, T2 resembles the likes of Before Sunset and Clerks 2, especially as it provides a welcome reunion with characters that you immediately care for and are happy to see again. It's just a shame that the film doesn't give them enough to do.
The narrative cracks are papered over by the fact that most of the leading foursome are able to step seamlessly back into the shoes of their characters. Only Ewan McGregor struggles, as Renton is so lost that there's little to make him intriguing. And while Robert Carlyle isn't quite as menacing as his original portrayal of Begbie, there's still a fire in his belly that immediately provokes excitement whenever he's on screen. Jonny Lee Miller portrays Sick Boy as less confident, more wary, yet just as eager to be duplicitous and devious. But its Ewen Bremner that puts in the strongest performance, as Spud goes from being a near live-action version of Goofy to panging with remorse, before then convincingly revealing hidden talents and depths.
But while the cast and their patter, especially between Renton and Sick Boy, makes T2 a homecoming that's never unsavory, Danny Boyle's decision to deploy a more placid, less virtuoso and gung-ho approach behind the camera keeps it just pleasant. While it has a smoother and cleaner look and aesthetic, this pales in comparison to the rough and tumble edginess that made Trainspotting so eye-opening and memorable back in its day.
This blandness is only exacerbated because of T2's lack of gumption and coherence about what it actually wants to say, as its focused too much on its past rather than its present, which leaves the film aimlessly ambling. In fact, T2's meandering examination of how living in the past hampers your own progress is presented in such a meta fashion that maybe its entire aim was to disappoint, so that it can perfectly depict the anguish of nostalgia. Even if that is true, though, that doesn't make it any less of a disappointment.