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Ewan McGregor as Mark and Jonny Lee Miller as Simon stride out of a cow barn in T2 Trainspotting.

Jaap Buitendijk

3 out of 4 stars

Title
T2 Trainspotting
Written by
John Hodge
Directed by
Danny Boyle
Starring
Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle
Genre
Drama
Classification
18A
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2017

"You," says an embittered middle-aged Sick Boy to a potentially sentimental Renton, "are a tourist in your own youth."

Okay, so there has been some pushback at the very notion of a Trainspotting sequel, a sense that revisiting that anarchic gang of Edinburgh junkies 21 years later is a trip fit only for wankers. But T2 Trainspotting is intensely and intelligently aware of the problem. Returning to Irvine Welsh's blistering material, specifically the novelist's own Trainspotting sequel Porno, screenwriter John Hodge and director Danny Boyle create a wittily self-referential romp about the disillusionment of age.

By rights, none of these hard-living lads should still be alive. And indeed, Spud (Ewen Bremner) is about ready to depart this life just as the film starts. Spud is still on the skag, but Renton (Ewan McGregor) has gone straight and, returning from an apparently settled life in Amsterdam to attend his mother's funeral, he rides to his friend's rescue.

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The pair are also quickly reunited with Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), now known as Simon and trying to make a living on the fringes of the sex trade, spinning various schemes that provide the film with most of its plot.

There's only the pathological Begbie (Robert Carlyle) missing: he is stuck inside the penal system, viciously plotting his revenge against Renton for the betrayal that ended the original movie.

Well, as you will have gathered from all that, there is not much point to T2 without a deep affection for T1. The new film is filled with in-jokes: Renton passes a particularly disgusting toilet but moves on to the next cubicle. Phew. Diane (Kelly Macdonald), the partying school girl, makes a sly reappearance.

But the film also boasts a highly original and well integrated use of flashbacks, as Boyle deals out old Trainspotting scenes and images using the same bold yet smooth hand with which he played the hallucinatory passages in that first movie. Similarly, a fresh score convincingly revives the defining music of the first – Iggy Pop's Lust for Life and Underworld's Born Slippy most notably – while folding in newer British rock.

Despite the ravages of time, the cast has lost none of its energy and applies itself intelligently to moving the characters forward. Carlyle's blackly comic vision of Begbie's anger is still utterly reliable; Bremner's pathos as Spud is becoming genuinely tragic; and, as Simon, Miller is particularly intriguing as he captures the embitterment of a comer who has lost his charm.

The one performance here that is perhaps a trifle too self-aware for its own good is that of McGregor who seems to offer as much of Ewan McGregor's intervening 20 years as a celebrity as he does of Mark Renton's years as a reformed addict who is, it transpires, holding on to middle-class life by the toenails. In particular, Renton's budding romance with Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), Simon's young Eastern European partner in the brothel he hopes to open, has formulaic marketing expectations written all over it. Only a knowing joke from Diane – she's too young for you – saves the idea.

The caper and the characters make the film a delightful ride and the self-referential aspect is mainly amusing. Still, Boyle and Hodge push it further than they should as T2 advances, developing a plot line about how the original novel first gets written while offering several sentimental parent-child reunions. It is only in these final scenes that a fan might begin to doubt the wisdom of this project. The lads from Edinburgh thrive in chaos and, for all their new-found maturity, they are still at their best when in full flight from both responsibility and time.

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