I went to see the Trainspotting sequel this week. This isn’t going to be a proper film review, because T2: Trainspotting isn’t that interesting in itself. What I mainly want to talk about is how it stands in relation to the original. But if you just want to know if T2 is any good: it’s a competent and engaging piece of cinema. I wasn’t lifted to transcendence, but nor did I feel robbed of my £10 and 2 hours.
Anyway, I re-watched the original Trainspotting in preparation. If you haven’t seen that film in a while (or ever), then I recommend you spend an evening on that, because it’s still incredible. There isn’t a single forgettable scene in it. Trainspotting the film is probably better (whatever that means) than Trainspotting the book, and that’s saying something because it’s a damn good book. It’s a close-run thing though, I think because the thing that makes them both great is that they evoke genuine emotion in the same way, each cycling rapidly between excitement, rage, and desperate sorrow.
T2: Trainspotting is based in part on Irvine Welsh’s sequel novel Porno, which is pretty terrible. The filmmakers have wisely jettisoned a lot of the worst parts of that book and written a fresh script, mixing parts of Porno with parts of the original book that didn’t make it into the first film, and adding some entirely new stuff. If nothing else, T2 is a much better sequel than Porno. It’s not a great piece of art (as I clearly think the original is), but it’s a competent and enjoyable film. The acting is good, the plot is engaging, and it’s full of clever bits of direction and writing. I don’t know what else to say really.
Here are the key differences between Trainspotting and T2, as I see it.
- Trainspotting is morbidly funny; T2 is just funny. Sure, there are some pure gags in Trainspotting (Spud’s shit going everywhere at breakfast), but mostly they’re of the laugh-or-you’ll-cry variety. T2 has some great jokes, but they’re just jokes.
- Trainspotting is meant to capture the time and place it was made in (and does so well). T2 is stranded halfway between that time and the present. It tries to use the apparatus of the first film to critique today’s world, but it’s constantly looking over it’s shoulder at what has gone before.
This second point is the key: T2 only really exists in reference to the original film. To be fair there was probably no other way to do it, any other approach would have failed badly. But what we are left with is a film that takes the raw excitement and anger of Trainspotting and replaces it with nostalgia. Nostalgia can be a nice thing, but it’s no substitute for how you felt the first time around.
What’s wrong with T2, of course, is that it isn’t (and couldn’t ever be) Trainspotting. Reading back what I’ve written, it sounds like I’m being pretty hard on it, but really I think T2 is a success; it’s about as good as it could be, and considerably better than I expected. Mostly I am grateful that its makers were able to produce a sequel that doesn’t ruin my memory of the original.
Look, if you go into the cinema expecting a film as good as the original, you will be sorely disappointed. That should be obvious, and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. But I fully expected to hate it, as I hate almost every sequel every made, and to curse the economic incentives that mean great pieces of art can’t be left alone. Instead I had an enjoyable couple of hours and left the cinema feeling clean.