Choose life. Again. The sequel to Trainspotting succeeds in being another wild trip through Edinburgh's dirty streets, dark pubs and dingy flats. Like its actors, it's got a little extra flab but still has the moves.
Ewan McGregor returns as Renton, the one member of the quartet from the original that managed to leave his drug-heavy life behind (though with the bag of cash that they were all supposed to split evenly). He's been living in Amsterdam for 20 years, though not much happier than the rest of the crew.
Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) is still conning people, though with a Ukrainian girlfriend and a nasty cocaine addiction. Spud (Ewen Bremner) has relapsed into using heroin, ending his marriage and losing him visitation rights for his son. And Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has just escaped from prison after being denied parole again. Yet all of them still have a gleam in their eye that they may one day get out of their situations.
That's part of why T2 works (and also why the original worked so well): This subject matter is extremely dour, and there's an effective but incredibly bleak drama to be made from that. But writer Irvine Welsh (adapting his novels), director Danny Boyle and the cast refuse to play it that way. They'd much rather indulge in gallows humor (literally at one point) and exquisitely soundtrack each fight, drug trip and epiphany.
Nothing can touch the original for sheer exhilaration, exhaustion and that rare feeling of "I'm seeing something happen onscreen that I've never seen before." That can only happen when everyone involved is "young, scrappy and hungry" (to borrow a line from Hamilton) and working without a safety net. T2 has more than 10 times the budget of the original, and its sleek digital photography and CGI are in stark contrast to the dingy look and horrifying practical effects of Trainspotting. Yet there's still risk here, even for an actor as suave as Ewan McGregor. He doesn't have to dive into a toilet in this one, but still ends up with a face full of vomit after saving Spud from a suicide attempt.
Still, the movie feels a little weighted down by trying to fill in the 20 year-gap between film and story. It's a good half-hour longer than the original, and it's easy to see where they could have trimmed. In particular, Begbie's attempt to reconnect with his son, who's more interested in college than the family trade of burglary and drugs, feels more sentimental than this movie should be.
T2 is a stellar sequel because it's not high on its own past. It's really a movie about life's disappointments and how unchecked nostalgia can make it worse. Their lives weren't really better when they were young junkies. They just didn't have to pay for their decisions as much. T2 is their hilarious, disturbing reckoning.