Danny Boyle returns to the milieu of his breakout film with plenty of energy and affection, but not much purpose. T2: Trainspotting knows that it wants to reunite us with the first movie’s four main characters, check a few nostalgia boxes (wittily at times, clunkily at others), and crank up the music. Yet beyond that the film has no unifying idea, only fleeting and quickly forgotten ones.
Perhaps Boyle would have been better off making a prequel. Among T2’s most effective moments are the intermittent flashbacks of Renton (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlyle), and Spud (Ewen Bremner) as elementary-age schoolboys— innocent footballers who have yet to let heroin get its hooks in them. Those scenes have a freshness and a driving question—what happened to these kids?—that the sequel’s narrative lacks.
Instead, Renton returns to Edinburgh some 20 years later for random reasons, where he finds Sick Boy still involved in the underground economy, Spud still addicted to heroin, and Begbie still nursing a desire for revenge on Renton for ripping them all off at the end of the first film. This latter element serves as the plot’s engine, but at a cost, as it reduces Begbie—the dark heart of the first movie—to a raving villain by movie’s end.
Left largely unconsidered is the true villain of the first film (besides heroin): adulthood. There are nods to that theme here—an opening treadmill gag, a midlife-crisis reprise of Renton’s “choose life” speech—but few moments where these boys wrestle with the men they’ve become. Except, surprisingly, Spud. The comic relief of Trainspotting, Bremner is given more screen time here and turns in a deeply moving performance. He exchanges goofiness for mournfulness, just as Spud has grown up to trade a close band of mates and easy highs for an estranged son and deteriorating health. He’s the still center of a movie that otherwise can’t quite keep focus amidst its reunion antics.