Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Irvine Welsh (novel), John Hodge (adaptation)
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller
With the announcement of a long-awaited sequel comes the outpouring of naysayers who’ll decry that it won’t be as good as the original. Then, in turn, come the predictable retorts: Godfather part II, Empire Strikes Back, Wrath of Khan etc. Then we drink cocoa and go to bed, never having resolved the issue until someone mentions the aforementioned sequel and the whole thing starts all over again.
But that’s kind of missing the point. With sequels we get to further explore our favourite characters and see them in new situations. And that’s all very well and good for The Godfather, Wars and Trek when they bash out a sequel a couple of years after the original. We’re still enjoying the glow of the embers of that great fire.
But what about the sequels released after a long absence? To say that history hasn’t been kind to follow-ups of classics would be like saying Napoleon was a bit of a ruffian. A quick search of sequels with long gaps will produce Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Lost Skull, Blues Brothers 2000 and Independence Day: Resurgence. Not great.
You see, with long absences comes nostalgia and affection. Having been deprived of a sequel for so long we have resorted to VHS, DVDs, downloading and streaming in an effort to capture the original magic of our beloved heroes and villains. Then 20 years later a bunch of aging actors who’ve previously distanced themselves from ever returning to the thing that made them famous suddenly want to do a ‘reimagining’ of the original material, coincidentally just as their careers are hitting the skids.
And that might even be a little true of T2, if not for the fact that Ewan McGregor is doing just fine. His famous spat with Danny Boyle probably delayed the return of Renton and co by several years, but in the end it didn’t really matter because this is probably the first time since Paul Newman’s reprisal of Fast Eddie Felson in the Color of Money that we’re not harping back to the protagonist’s glory days. In fact we’re doing kinda the opposite.
We meet Mark “Rentboy” Renton (McGregor) again, 20 years on from ‘the skag deal to end all skag deals’ in which he double-crossed his mates and ran off with the money. He’s married and has been living in Holland when he collapses with a health issue, causing him to have a midlife crisis and question his past, present and future. Desperate for answers and meaning to his life he heads back to a place he’s been avoiding for a very long time – home.
Back in Leith, Simon “Sickboy” Williamson (Miller) is running a pub bequeathed to him by his auntie, he’s growing marijuana in the pub’s basement and partakes in blackmail and extortion for a few extra pounds. Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Bremner) is a loser. He’s still a struggling junkie but now he’s impacting very negatively on his Gail (Shirley Henderson) and their son Fergus. And, of course, Francis Begbie (Carlyle) is in jail.
Mark return to his parents’ home isn’t joyful. His dad lives alone since his mum passed away since he was last there, but her absence casts a shadow. His bedroom, in the first of many callbacks to the original, in exactly how he left it, minus the crawling ceiling-baby. It’s the start of an emotional journey full of nostalgia and longing for days he’ll never touch again.
Mark goes to see Spud who’s came to the realisation that his son would be off without having him as an embarrassment for a dad, Gail without his constant failings and the world for not having in it. None ofwhich are true about the ultimately lovable Spud, only highlighting his desperation further. Renton arrives in the nick of time, saving his old friend’s life only to be met with anger from the furious Spud. Anger for not letting him die now and for leaving him £4000 twenty years earlier in a station locker. His reasoning being that a junkie should never be left with such a princely sum of money as it was only ever going to end up in his veins.
His visit with Sickboy is, perhaps, even less fruitful, especially as it results in the two of them smashing each other with glasses and pool cues. Mark rationalises that he didn’t do anything Sickboy wouldn’t have done to him, given his unscrupulous character and lacking in moral fiber. The sad thing here is not that Sickboy has changed, it’s that he hasn’t. He’s a middle aged man with who bleaches his hair, still doing the things an anarchic twentysomething would do.
Begbie has just been refused parole due to his predilection for violence, which causes him to respond violently by attacking his own solicitor. But the ever-ingenious Begbie has the cunning plan of having a fellow inmate deliberately stab him so he can take advantage of his location in hospital to escape.
With Begbie’s spontanious release, Sickboy’s scheming, Spud’s desperation to be a better person and Renton’s search for meaning in his friendships our beloved troupe are back. But this isn’t a rehashing of old plots and catchphrases or a cashing in of past glories. Nor is it a fun and nostalgic look to the past, but a soulful stare into our characters younger selves, attempting to reflect on their triumphs and tragedies. Would it ever be as good again or was it ever so bad?
Danny Boyle’s effort to reunite the original cast of a film which enjoyed a massive amount of success to make it’s sequel 20 years down the road should be applauded. Together with John Hodge (the writer of the original) they succeed in delivering, yet again, a wonderfully enjoyable film. Although it would be impossible to recreate the vibrancy and dazzling brilliance of it’s younger brother, T2 excels with its hilarity, faithfulness to its characters and its poignancy, reflecting that the excitement which comes with the frivolity of youth can be matched with the wisdom that comes with age. But maybe not in Spud’s case. Or Begbie. Or Sickboy for that matter. Maybe not Renton either.
…getting by, looking ahead, the day you die.