It's not difficult to understand how Trainspotting established itself as a cult classic. The adaptation of Irvine Welsh's gritty novel revealed the raw underbelly of the Edinburgh drug scene that was a far cry from the up-'til-then glamorized heroin-chic aesthetic of the '90s. The profound tale shocked and entertained viewers.
Trainspotting is regarded as one of the greatest British films ever made, and 20 years later, Mark Renton's story continues. With heroin firmly behind him and an unfulfilling future ahead, T2 chronicles the challenging plight of a reformed junkie trying to keep up with the modern world.
Scotland is a different place since Rents left, and yet so much has remained unchanged. Similar can be said of the Trainspotting franchise. With the same stellar cast and visionary production crew, T2 was always set up for success. So how did director Danny Boyle manage to pull it off?
Getting The Whole Gang Back Together
T2 doesn't just offer big names — it's got more than a few familiar ones, too. Original Trainspotting fans rejoiced at the news of Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner and yes, Kelly Macdonald all signing up for the long-awaited sequel. Hell, even author Irvine Welsh reprised his cameo as drug dealer Mikey Forrester.
The cast slipped seamlessly back into their old roles, delivering a much-longed-for update on what had happened to everyone's favorite Scots while we were gone. Thankfully, they were far from rusty, and it didn't take long to get audiences hooked on their story once again.
It also didn't hurt that much of the T2 crew were reunited after all this time. Boyle recruited original screenwriter John Hodge to pen the script, as well as producer Andrew Macdonald (no relation to Kelly). No doubt we've got this stellar production team to thank for delivering a sequel that remained so true to the model established by the original.
'So What You Been Up To — For 20 Years?'
Old habits die hard — even for reformed heroin addict Renton. He's replaced skag with running, a metaphor for his desperate need to escape his problems. It's a clear sign that while heroin doesn't have a place in his life anymore, his reasons for taking it still remain.
Sick Boy may have switched to coke to match his slick, organized crime sensibilities, but there's no denying how much baby Dawn's death in Trainspotting left a lasting impact on him. And as for Begbie and Spud? Well, not much has changed for either of them. It's all too easy to fall back into old habits, but it's even harder to break them in the first place.
However, far from sounding like a broken record, T2 grounds itself in the gravity of everyday life. It broaches similarly taboo subjects: Fighting the establishment by ripping it off, and the struggles of living outside the system. While the audience may feel conflicted in rooting for the film's subversive protagonists, even Begbie still has an undeniable charm that makes the audience hate to love him.
Something Old, Something New
Nostalgia's become a dirty word, but there was no way T2 could go on without paying tribute to the iconic era of its much-loved original. Trainspotting was quintessentially '90s, setting a fictional telling of Scotland's real-life heroin epidemic against a catchy soundtrack of Blondie, Iggy Pop and New Order. It's almost impossible to hear Underworld's "Born Slippy" without associating it with Trainspotting's haunting final scene.
Many of these same artists were featured throughout T2's soundtrack, including a version of "Lust for Life," aptly remixed by The Prodigy. Those familiar tracks anchor the film to its pop culture roots, taking you back to the world of the original in the most satisfying way.
But Trainspotting wasn't just made iconic by its soundtrack. The cinematography of some of the film's classic scenes — such as Renton's overdose, or that toilet scene — were done in a way that made them timeless. Despite the two decades that have passed since the first film, the same visual experimentation in T2 perfectly matches its predecessor. That's the benefit of utilizing techniques that don't date — they're always going to look relevant.
This same message rings true of the entire film. It's a satisfying adventure into the thrilling world of sex, drugs and danger, and a respectful nod to both Welsh's dark literary universe and Boyle's 1990s masterpiece. While its story remains similarly ambiguous to Trainspotting thanks to its relatively open ending, T2 is a satisfying service to fans who've spent the past 20 years asking themselves what might have become of Edinburgh's most enthralling addicts.
T2 Trainspotting is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download.