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Review: ‘T2 Trainspotting’ might just be the perfect sequel

Trainspotting is my favorite movie. The 1996 cult classic, which tells the tale of a group of Scottish heroin addicts trying to make the perfect score, has become something of a cultural touchstone. Thanks to its innovative direction by Danny Boyle, whip-smart dialogue penned by John Hodge and the powerful performances from folks like Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, the movie is one of the most beloved films in recent memory.

To many, myself included, Trainspotting ended perfectly. It is a total package. Twenty-one years later, however, Boyle, Hodge and the original cast have returned for T2 Trainspotting. As it turns out, it is the perfect sequel, a powerful continuation to the original film that provided me with a story I didn’t even know I wanted so badly.

Picking up 20 years after the original, T2 follows recovered junkie Mark Renton (portrayed admirably once again by McGregor) as he travels back home to Scotland and confronts his demons and former friends from the first film. His visit takes him to see Spud (reprised by Ewen Bremner, who is arguably better in this film than he was in the original) and “Sick Boy” Simon (played by a mature, restrained Jonny Lee Miller). Renton’s homecoming also happens to occur right as Francis Begbie (captured with Academy Award-worthy vigor by Carlyle) — a man whose drug of choice has always been violence — makes a bloody escape from prison.

What follows is a powerful and poignant film, which deliberately plays on the nostalgia element inherent in making a sequel this many years after the first film. After numerous odes and callbacks to the first film, it is Miller’s Simon that calls Renton and the audience out on the bullshit. “You’re a tourist in your own youth,” he snarls.

Nostalgia and coming to terms with age are the film’s main thematic devices. Danny Boyle continues to prove that he is the master of archive footage, seamlessly weaving in a wealth of flashbacks and old footage, all to the film’s immense benefit.

While the characters once again get wrapped up in a get-rich-quick scheme, it is not their plot that is at the heart of T2. It is the characters. Renton’s drug problems have been replaced with familial woes and a lack of connection. Spud has struggled to find purpose, with things as slight as daylight saving time getting in the path of his life. Simon, meanwhile, continues to toil wearily in a quest to get rich. And Begbie finds that the world, and his family, have mercilessly passed him by following his time in prison. Scotland has changed a hell of lot since the events of Trainspotting and so have the boys.

Boyle and Hodge’s decision to play on the nostalgia of sequels while crafting a powerful standalone feature film that does not try to be its predecessor is a bold and wildly successful maneuver. I would imagine that few people could have gone into T2 with higher expectations than myself, and so I’m ecstatic to say that this film has more than surpassed them. T2 is the kind of movie I want to watch again and again, just like the original. It does not have the frenetic energy of the first film, as some reviewers have noted, but why should it? This is a companion piece, not a piece of mimicry. And it is all the better for that.

Featuring stunning camerawork, more than a few powerful set pieces and acting that makes you almost believe none of these actors ditched their original characters, T2 is a fitting sequel to a film I would consider to be the best of all-time. And it would be hard to argue against its status as one of the great sequels of all-time.

This is the rare sequel that builds on, rather than copies from, the movie that came before it. When you factor in just how good the original Trainspotting was, the achievement here is all the more impressive. T2 is far from a perfect film, but it is the perfect sequel. In an era of vapid cash-grab sequels, a sequel to a 21-year-old movie has managed to seem more relevant than most anything else out in cinemas and that’s one hell of a feat.

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