T2 Trainspotting 

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Only about 20% of the UK cinema going public are over 40. Over half of them are actually under 30. Yet it seems they keep making films just for people in this upper age bracket, often picking up on other movies from when we were younger ourselves. Bridget Jones was 43 in her last film, Jason Bourne is a similar age, Xander Cage who surprised everyone by returning last month is touching 50 and David Levison from Independence Day is significantly older than that. Even the belated sequels that are appealing directly to a younger audiences, like Creed and The Force Awakens, are playing partly to the older crowd. Folllwing this trend we now have T2 Trainspotting which is aimed at a middle aged market more than any of them. Goodness knows what a twenty something crowd will make of it, all these people their parents age lifting wallets, getting into fights, having sex and taking drugs. Still, they’ve got their Cara Delevignes, their Blake Livelys and their Miles Tellers. We’ve got Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle (you know him kids, from TV’s Once Upon a Time) and crucially we’ve got director Danny Boyle.

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It was a slightly different world back in 1996 when the first Trainspotting film came out. One of the free gifts with the special edition VHS tape was a cigarette lighter which would never happen now. They didn’t go as far as including a teaspoon and a syringe but it was in that ball park. The idea of doing a sequel to this iconic British movie now is actually a lot more interesting than it would have been a few years afterwards. Seeing these characters now, in an age where tools for the consumption of dangerous addictive substances are no longer given away with movies, gives us something totally different yet entirely in keeping with the original. There isn’t as much drug consumption this time round, technology plays a part, a different flavour of Scottish nationalism is presented and there is an update on the famous choose life speech that is everything you want it to be (even if it is slightly shoe horned into the screenplay). This new film isn’t as impactful as its predecessor but it is a fitting continuation of the story. 

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The plot has McGregor’s Mark Renton returning to Edinburgh for the first time since he walked off with his friends drug money to the beats of Underworld’s Born Slippy at the end of Trainspotting. He’s done okay in the intervening years but his partners in crime, Simon, Spud and Begbie have faired less well. Clearly there is some bad blood and his reunions with each of them in turn are dramatic and riveting in different ways. It is interesting to see what growing up has done to each of them and they were all happier with their unwritten lives ahead of them than they are with disappointing ones behind them. 

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The portrayal of each of these four men feels authentic but it is more of a challenge to like any of them now that they no longer have youth as an excuse for their selfishness and contempt of others. What was interesting about these guys twenty years ago was that they were both cool kids and stupid children. Now they are just pathetic older men and shameful sleazebags. Yet it is still possible to stay on their side. 

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At least it is possible to stay on side with three of them; Carlyle’s Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie is demonstrably the villain now as he is considerably less forgiving of Renton’s betrayal than the other two. The performances of the four actors are all strong and many of the other players from the first film are also included in ways that do not feel forced. Kelly MacDonald’s one scene is particularly great and her last line is just perfect. There is a certain amount of history repeating itself with the narrative but not in the way it did with X-Wings flying down another trench to blow up another death-star. Here it isn’t repetition, here it is symmetry.

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Thank goodness that Danny Boyle has returned to direct. This whole thing was clearly his project and perhaps it’s unlikely that anyone else would have been calling the shots, especially two decades later, but you know about The Birds II: Land’s End, right – and The Great Escape II: The Untold Story, Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power, 2010, Another Midnight Run, Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby? All real movies. Anyone else but Boyle, teaming again with the original’s script writer John Hodge, would have been tempted to try and emulate Trainspotting but in these hands T2 feels connected but different. Take the fantasy elements from the first movie, the toilet dive etc, there are comparative scenes in this sequel but they are not overplayed as they could have been with someone else behind the lens. Also the music, so important before, is a similar mix of old and contemporary but with a very different vibe. It is as though the whole mood of thing has been allowed to mature with the principle cast.

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The best word to describe T2 Trainspotting is satisfying. It isn’t the shot to the veins that the original was and it won’t give you the same high but if we’ve learnt anything it’s that striving for that can mess you up. What this movie won’t do is put you on a downer. It’s funny, it’s tense, it’s thrilling and it’s just right for those of us that were there the first time. 

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The Ripley Factor:
There is one main character in T2 that is new to the story; 25 year old Anjela Nedyalkova’s Veronica. She is a little objectified and there is some nudity but this doesn’t go beyond what the story demands. She is certainly key to the plot and is making her own choices. She isn’t a feminist figure but no one really flies the flag for their gender in this film. 

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Is this one for the kids?
That’s a redundant question although I do find it interesting that this film is rated 18 whereas Mel Gibson’s WW2 movie Hacksaw Ridge was not. The sex in T2 isn’t particularly explicit, neither is the drug use. Put simply there are four other reasons why this film has the higher rating and each one it a letter of the alphabet, specifically the 3rd, the 14th, the 20th and the 21st all repeatedly put together to form one choice little word.

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I don’t blame the BBFC for this, they follow guidance from the public, but it does not seem right that swearing should be considered worse than extreme violence. I get that it is about imitable behaviour but I am more comfortable with my teenage children hearing words they must hear regularly among their peers at school than I am with them seeing human faces torn off skulls and laying in the mud, torsos blown in half and bodies shredded by machine gun fire. I can’t help feeling something has gone wrong somewhere.

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