In the 90’s, if there were two flicks that demonstrated the impact a solid soundtrack can have on a movie’s place in pop culture history, they were Pulp Fiction (1994) and Trainspotting (1996), arguably then followed by Judgement Night (1993) and Reservoir Dogs (1992) (personal bias but I would also throw 1993’s Cool World soundtrack in there too. Questionable movie…great tunes!). I was working at a local gas station at the time (18 yrs old) and distinctly noticed the Trainspotting Soundtrack CD (remember those?) appearing in one of the display racks and being instantly intrigued. Pretty sure I owned and listened to that disc before actually seeing the movie.
Then the movie hit our shores.
From the opening shots, the crashing cacophony of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’, I knew that the flick was going to be something special, as movie’s go.
And it was.
Trainspotting was (and still is) a well crafted and creative adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s cynical, semi-autobiographical 1993 novel, brought to life by a dedicated and emotional cast bolstered by solid direction and great use of music. And for a while, much like Pulp Fiction before it, it was the Talk of the Town, this plucky little indie Movie That Could from overseas that was clearly having an impact of some kind on the more discerning movie-going masses, getting them right in their ‘feels’ and their wallets.
Trainspotting, under director Danny Boyle’s assured and imaginative direction, was a hit. It made seriously healthy coin and, more importantly, had a lasting impact on pop culture, particularly reinforcing the ugly perception of the seedy world of heroin addicts, for right or wrong. Seriously, unless you were born in the last decade, most folks have AT LEAST heard of it, if having not seen it. And to those who have yet to catch up with the 1996 original…CHECK IT OUT! It’s a masterfully crafted movie!
Scottish author Irvine Welsh, once an addict himself and now a successful icon in literary circles, eventually followed up on his 1993 book with a sequel novel, called Porno in 2002 (any guess what it might be about?). I own a copy and remember enjoying it for what it was years ago, though Welsh’s frequent use of phonetic Scottish and slang within his prose admittedly distracts from his narrative sometimes, resulting in a story that seems murky in my memory. But, given the success of the movie, it seemed almost inevitable that it too would receive the adaptation treatment, especially given just how sequel-heavy the last two decades have become.
EVENTUALLY, all the key players from the original – writer / director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge, original stars Ewan MacGregor (Renton), Ewen Bremner (Spud), Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) and Robert Carlyle (Begbie), among others, came together with a script that was partly inspired by Porno but was mostly a fresh narrative for the cinematic incarnations of these characters. And thus armed with an $18 million USD budget, they put the sequel under the lens, a sequel that seems to have virtually disappeared since release.
I have to admit that I was perplexed, to say the least, about how the oddly named T2 Trainspotting‘s (I see what they did there…just don’t know why) theatrical release was handled. I like to think that I have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening with the world of cinema, but this one just seemed to come and go when it released in 2017, just a blip on the radar that landed with virtually no fanfare or lasting cultural impact. Hell, I asked a coworker the other day if he’d seen it and the response was “They made a sequel?”. That seems to sum up its contribution to the cultural lexicon. Though it must be pointed it…whatever piddly number of theatres it did hit managed to scrape in some cash, to the tune of almost $42 million on that $18 mill budget. I wondered if it had fallen victim to that Too Little, Too Late School of Sequels, with lame-ass, cash-grab titles like Zoolander 2 (2016) and Dumb and Dumber To (2014) landing and quickly sinking, dismissed into Obscurity (incidentally, I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch either of those needless car wrecks. Should I?). But since it was ALWAYS intended to take place 20 years later, rumor has it that Boyle and Co. deliberately put off production until the appropriate amount of time had passed, as opposed to seeing nothing but dollar signs filtered through the warm hazy fad of nostalgia permeating Hollywood these days.
Did T2 Trainspotting deserve the apparent lack of fanfare? Would it turn out to be a lazy, ‘why bother’ sequel to a true cinematic classic whenever the hell it was that I would catch up to it?
Curiosity finally got the better of me and after not being able to locate it on any of the 5 streaming services we use, I broke down and found a reasonably priced Blu ray version on good ole Amazon. So on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, I smoked a bowl, cracked a beer and sealed myself away with my pen and paper before hitting PLAY.
Here lie scribbles!
–Tristar? Blast from the past. Speaking of nostalgia, the old school Tristar logo takes me back to personal favorites like Iron Eagle (1986) and Cliffhanger (1993). It gives me the ‘feels’, what can I say? Though it is odd, as the once beleaguered studio had nothing to do with the first flick. *shrugs*
–Ouch! Ejected from treadmill. This is something I’ve seen, and laughed at, many times, on many a Fail compilation. Some moron not paying attention or goofing around on a treadmill forgets that it’ll keep going even if his feet don’t, usually hurling the person into whatever’s behind them. This happens to ‘Renton’ (Ewan MacGregor) when we’re introduced to him at a gym in Amsterdam, in a clever throwback to the opening of the first movie.
–Begbie still Begbie. The consistency begins. We catch up with ‘Frances Begbie’ (Robert Carlyle), still imprisoned after the events of the first film, and he’s definitely still the volatile psycho we saw on the first go.
–Spud still Spud. It continues. Ewen Bremner’s ‘Spud’ is an endearing loser who means well but just can’t get his shit together. Bremner hasn’t lost a beat.
–Sick Boy still Sick Boy. You see a pattern emerging here? It felt like, even though two decades had passed, these actors, including Jonny Lee Miller’s slightly chilling portrayal of ‘Sick Boy’ (now going by ‘Simon’), had just slipped back into these low-lives like an old skin. Felt like an organic progression from the first one.
–Solid intro. Not quite as impactful as the original but still creative and energetic.
–Ugh. Spud score scene. Of all the characters, ‘Spud’ is the one who’s been dealt the shittiest hand, succumbing to his old, heroin addict ways when his life takes an abrupt downward spiral. During a montage, we see him having to pluck his baggied score from the teeth of a lowlife dealer in a scuzzy tenement somewhere in Edinburgh.
–Cool. Shadow ghostly. When ‘Renton’ returns home, he finds that his mother passed away in his absence, leaving his father alone. The shot in which they discuss her is framed as a direct copy of the ‘family discussion’ scenes from the original, only Mom’s seat is empty. However, Boyle got creative with the lighting and cast a shadow to suggest her ghostly presence.
–OF COURSE Spud lives on 13. I don’t know how it is in Scotland, but here in North America, architectural superstition doesn’t allow for the number 13 to be used in the naming of building floors, it goes from Floor 12 to Floor 14. It’s silly and weird, but it’s there. Given how shitty Spud’s life rapidly becomes, it’s only fitting that the poor goofy looking bastard lives on the 13th Floor.
–Eeeww! Puke in bag. SOMEONE tries to kill themselves. SOMEONE ELSE tries save them. A bag cinched around someone’s neck suddenly fills with barf. It’s pretty gross.
–Uh Oh. Begbies back. Yep. He’s back, like a pissed up, pissed off Terminator, out for blood. His escape is pretty fucked up too.
–Hilarious Ewan vs Jonny fight. What begins as a tense but civil reintroduction for these two former best friends / now enemies inevitably degenerates into a down n dirty, smash em up round of fisticuffs, that I found Laugh Out Loud hilarious.
–Impotence is a bitch. Now, in my research for this writing, I came across an interesting tidbit regarding the character of ‘Begbie’ directly from actor Robert Carlyle – ‘Frances Begbie is gay’. He lives in denial and this contributes to his volatile nature but also to his inability to get it up when the opportunity arises (so to speak). I had read it as – his thirst for vengeance messed up his mojo. But then I thought back to his homosexual panic in the first one (transvestite in car scene) and something fell into place. But yes…impotence is a bitch, or so I hear.
–Some nice cinematography. To be expected. Danny Boyle has always been a very visual director and here is no different, with numerous creative, difficult or straight up beautiful shots on display.
–Coked to the gills! Heroin was the Big Bad in 1996 but this time around, cocaine takes the crown, especially where ‘Simon’ is concerned. He seems to be bucking back rails in virtually every other scene.
–LOL music video. Another great Ewan + Jonny scene. The video playing in the background during another amusing ”Renton’ hangs out with ‘Simon’ scene’, some loser-looking white guy rapping over ridiculous footage. Cracked me up.
–Irvine? Just like in the first one, author Irvine Welsh again pops up for a cameo as sleazy low-life dealer ‘Mikey Forrester’. So…more connective tissue.
–Ballsy caper. Brazen. ‘Renton’ and ‘Simon’ plan out a move to jack a slew of wallets from the coat room of a Loyalist club during a performance night, fueled by desperation.
–Hilarious performance scene. ‘No more Catholics left’. Just when it seems like they’re going to get fucked up by a drunken horde of Loyalist bar patrons, even before their larcenous operation is discovered, ‘Renton’ and ‘Simon’ are forced onstage, where they somehow turn the tables and improvise a rousing, vehemently anti-Catholic tune that gets the whole place jumping. And they escape.
–Idiots. Pellet gun. During another montage, we see ‘Renton’ and ‘Simon’ taking turns shooting each other in the face with the pellet rifle from the first movie, protected only by couch cushions. Like I said…idiots.
–Good use of / call back to Deep Blue Day. One song I always liked from the first film was Brian Eno’s dream-like Deep Blue Day, used almost to perfection during the notorious Worst Toilet in Scotland scene, while also being just a great piece of ambient electronica. It’s used here again but only subtly, which I appreciated.
–Begbie’s a psycho + asshole. Sorry for his kid. Says it all right there.
–Kelly MacDonald! Looking good. Though more scenes where allegedly filmed, Kelly MacDonald returns as ‘Renton’s former underage lover ‘Diane’, now a lawyer, for one key scene, just further connecting T2 to the events and characters in the first one. Plus, for some reason, I’ve always liked MacDonald as an actress, especially her turn on the awesome Prohibition Era HBO series Boardwalk Empire (which I highly recommend!)
-“Vajazzled”! Haha! This word gets dropped into a conversation by ‘Diane’ and I laughed my ass off. It means what it sounds like it means.
–Ah. She’s disappointed. Ouch. The ‘Diane Scene’ ends with her seeing him off with a single sentence that sums up her disappointment in where ‘Renton’ has ended up so far in Life. Cuts deep.
–SO. MUCH. COKE. That. Right there.
–Some solid throw-backs, with an upgrade on cynicism. Sobering insights. This is especially evident with a 2010’s upgrade to ‘Renton’s original rapid-fire ‘Choose Life’ speech from the opening of the original. And just like that one, there are poignant observations to grab onto and examine through the prism of our own lives and the direction things (unfortunately) seem to be going with western society.
-Middle Age Crisis theme? As a man in his soon-to-be-mid 40’s *shudder*, I picked up on themes of reflection and regret and what the future may, or should, hold in store, all thoughts that I’ve felt the need to ponder over the last couple years, as adulthood and the acknowledgement of inevitable finality firmly parked itself.
–You fucking idiots. Relapse. Great trip hop tune though. After reminiscing about ‘Tommy’ (Kevin McKidd), their doomed pal from the first one and how his heroin addiction eventually killed him, these morons opt to score a new load of H, in some bizarre, misguided attempt to honor (?) their long-dead friend. But…as a massive fan of Trip Hop, I loved the tune used.
–Holy shit! Viagra much?! Begbie finds a massive load of Viagra during a robbery and thinking that it may be this answer to his dick problems at home, jacks a bunch, but not before downing 4 or 5 of the lil blue bastards in one shot first.
–Crazy chase. Begbie vs Renton. Purely by chance (and true to the book), ‘Begbie’ runs into ‘Renton’ in the bathroom of a club, which leads to a crazy and desperate foot chase that nearly does them both in.
–Of course Born Slippy. Or a version of it. Much like Deep Blue Day, Underworld’s classic club banger Born Slippy is intrinsically attached to the first Trainspotting, so it only makes sense that some variation of the tune would manifest somewhere in T2 Trainspotting’s 1 hour and 57 minute run-time. And it does.
–Damn those accents! If there’s one common complaint that I’ve heard about Trainspotting, it’s the thickness of the near-impenetrable Scottish accents and slang. And here is no different, with certain characters (looking at YOU, ‘Spud’) almost sounding like a foreign language. Thank Gawd for subtitles!
–Robert Carlyle is a threatening mofo! Carlyle is, and always has been, a dedicated talent when it came to the Acting trade and, like Joe Pesci, he knows how to turn on Dangerous and Unpredictable at the drop of a hat, with a ferocity that seems at odds with his unassuming size and demeanor. He always seems to be a force to be reckoned with whenever he’s onscreen.
–Slasher vibe. The end takes on a slasher movie vibe quality, with everyone being pursued through a darkened, labyrinthian structure, complete with disorienting strobing lights and mirrors.
–Nice tidbits of back-story. We get little details about how these guys all know each other and for how long, which adds an element of sentimental tragedy to the vengeance element as it plays out.
–More action movie vibey. Probably just due to a larger budget but there’s a Hollywood-like slickness, a high-concept sheen that colors the 3rd Act.
–Pace dips on occasion. The original Trainspotting gallops ahead at a solid clip, with hardly any time wasted. Every once in while, I felt the slower pace here, notably during the 2nd Act (as is usually the case). A wee bit of trimming in the editing bay would’ve cleaned that right up.
–Trippy last shot. Another throw back to the first one is the last shot of this one, which is pure psychedelic head-fuckery. You’ll recognize it when you see it.
–Solid sequel! What the hell?! Yep, this was a good (but not perfect) flick that, in my opinion and considering the cultural impact of the first one, deserved a WAY BIGGER release and reception, hence the ‘what the hell?!’. I just don’t understand what happened to garner seemingly so little regard for this well-crafted Part 2. It’s kind of a shame, especially for the artists who clearly gave a shit about doing justice to the iconic first one.
And there you have it, folks!
All in all, I was impressed with what I got from T2 Trainspotting and definitely think it’s a worthy, if slightly lesser, continuation of the story. For those of you who hold Trainspotting in high regard, I think you owe it to yourself to seek this direct sequel out. Tonally, it flowed right in from the original and the cast pick it up like no time had passed. The consistency is actually pretty impressive and, despite a couple lags midway along, T2 moves along at an entertaining speed. The soundtrack, though nowhere near as classic as it’s predecessor’s, is good and compliments the action onscreen nicely, giving it an extra jolt of energy.
To sum up this recommendation and yes, it IS a recommendation, I’d again say that if you’re a fan of the first film, this one should work for you, as they really do go hand in hand. But if you also have a casual relationship only with the 1996 entry, but enjoy colorful and energetic flicks that take chances while boasting creative editing and beautiful cinematography then…
…choose T2 Trainspotting!