“Choose life,” says Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), in “T2 Trainspotting,” in what ought to go down in history as one of the great movie soliloquies of all time. “Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares.”
“Choose,” he continues, “looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently. And choose watching history repeat itself.” And so on, in that vein.
Speaking with an intensity that mixes cynicism and quiet resignation at the way life springs its traps on us all, Renton’s eyes bore into his listener. You can’t help thinking, “Wow, Ewan is really on fire in this scene.” And, “Good heavens, John Hodge is one powerful screenwriter.”
It helps to remember that this speech is a continuation and amplification of one McGregor delivers in the original “Trainspotting.”
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The same goes for “Trainspotting” (written, as is the sequel, by John Hodge, based on a novel by Scottish writer Irvine Welsh) and “T2.” This new movie, set 20 years after the earlier picture, connects intimately with the original. The same characters — Scottish bad boys Renton, Spud (Ewen Bremner), Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) — are back. They’re older, but only in some ways wiser. Scarred up by life, most are stuck in familiar patterns, although heroin is no longer the center of their lives as it was in the first movie. Spud, however, is still a junkie, his life in tatters. Begbie, never a heroin addict, is still psychotic, an awful hair-trigger menace to society. He’s serving a 20-plus-year prison term, but will soon escape. Simon, the one-time Sick Boy, has moved from heroin to cocaine and is a blackmailer trafficking in pornographic videos.
And Mark, who ripped them all off in “Trainspotting” by stealing a huge stash of illicit cash from his mates, has seemingly cleaned up his act and settled down in Amsterdam, gotten married and started a family, landed a steady job and is content. Turns out that’s far from the actual case.
These characters are all sharply etched and their personas are deepened in the follow-up. You really have to be familiar with the first movie to fully appreciate the sequel, with its nods to that earlier picture (the disgusting toilet, star of a key scene in “Trainspotting,” has a nanonsecond cameo), and its deep-diving examination of the roots and realities of what links these guys. It goes beyond friendship; call it mateship.
Those roots go deep. Renton knows that going back to Edinburgh could be the death of him, especially if Begbie gets loose, but it’s the only home he knows. Now 46, he realizes his mates, whom he’s known since childhood, are the only family he has.
Twenty years on from the first movie, Danny Boyle hasn’t lost an ounce of verve, though his filmmaking technique is much more advanced these days. His set pieces, particularly one that ties together the Battle of the Boyne (1690), a group sing and stolen credit cards, is a hilarious instant classic.
Boyle gives each character equal screen time, with Bremner standing out as he plays bug-eyed sad sack Spud with unexpected poignancy. As the only new character in the mix, Anjela Nedyalkova, playing Simon’s sometime girlfriend and business partner in his plans to build a bordello, makes the most of her scenes, viewing the lads’ shenanigans with a deadpan, clear-eyed realism.“T2” is a sequel that is at least the equal of the revered original.
With a pulsing soundtrack and an ending scene that cleverly ties the whole thing back to the first picture, “T2” is a sequel that is at least the equal of the revered original.
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner.
Director: Danny Boyle.
Running time: 1:58.
Rated: R, for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence.