T2: Trainspotting (18)

Dir: Danny Boyle

With: Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Robert Carlyle Running time: 117mins

4 stars

IF Danny Boyle’s original Trainspotting is rightly regarded as one of the seminal British films of the ‘90s, which continues to hold up well today, then it’s high praise indeed to say that this belated follow-up is every bit as good – maybe even better.

T2 doesn’t just recapture the relentlessly addictive energy of the first film, complete with profane language, outrageous sex and drug scenes and horrific bouts of violence, it displays a greater maturity too; one that lends it unexpected poignancy to match its more bravura moments.

And unlike some recent sequels that exist merely to revive franchises for quick fix cash returns (Zoolander 2, Independence Day: Resurgence), Boyle’s film feels like a labour of love that steadfastly refuses to trample on the memory of what was achieved before.

Read more: How The Herald reviewed the original Trainspotting movie

Set 20 years on, the film picks up as Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns home to Edinburgh to reunite with his friends, mindful of the deceptions that forced him to escape in the first place. Waiting for him are Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), now a pub landlord prone to blackmail, and Spud (Ewan Bremner), estranged from his wife and child and still struggling to overcome past addictions. Former friend turned enemy Begbie (Robert Carlyle), meanwhile, is fresh out of prison and looking for revenge.

Taking only basic elements from Irvine Welsh’s literary sequel Porno, T2 quickly proceeds to tread its own very different path, thereby allowing Boyle and returning screenwriter John Hodge room to create an all-new adventure. And while there are obvious nods to some of the original’s defining moments, whether in another foot-chase involving Renton (which inevitably involves a car) or soundtrack soundbites (Underworld’s Born Slippy is back, albeit remixed), this still feels like a continuation rather than a Force Awakens-style remix.

Read more: Renton actor Ewan McGregor worried 'not Scottish enough' for role in Trainspotting sequel

Characters grow and there’s a melancholy undertow to proceedings. The vibrancy of youth that flowed throughout the original, and which enabled it to tap so effortlessly into pop culture, is replaced by a sense of the passing of time: of regret, of fear, of missed opportunity, of mortality. There’s a realisation that some wounds cannot be healed, which lends certain scenes an unexpected poignancy.

Even Renton’s iconic ‘Choose Life’ speech has been updated to reflect the changes that have occurred not only in these characters lives, but in everyone’s. It’s a different world now - maybe even a worse one. Boyle and Hodge make you wait for it but it's delivered stylishly and is note perfect.

That’s not to say T2 isn’t fun; it is – tremendously so at times. Boyle remains an agile filmmaker whose energy is infectious. There are sequences that are just plain laugh out loud hilarious, where Boyle gets to experiment with his visual style and which offer up some head-rush highs. But there are also others that are gut-wrenchingly intense (mostly involving Begbie). Boyle takes you on an emotional rollercoaster that seldom lets up for the near two hour running time. There are very few lulls.

Read more: Ewan McGregor to return to Edinburgh for Trainspotting 2 World Premiere

The cast, for their part, are uniformly excellent and the camaraderie that clearly existed between them first time around has been recaptured here, albeit tempered with the pain of those past betrayals. McGregor is as mesmerising as he was first time around, albeit more world-weary emotionally, while Miller brings an underlying menace to Sick Boy that belies his outward charm. Bremner continues to invest Spud with a desperation and sorrow that's etched painfully across his face, while Carlyle is as volatile and unpredictable as ever, yet even gets the odd moment to display a long buried humanity.

High praise therefore must go to Boyle, Hodge and company for surpassing expectation to deliver a film that is as fondly nostalgic as it is fresh and relevant. Choose to see it as quickly as possible.