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T2 Trainspotting

Year: 2017
Production Co: Artbees
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: John Hodge/Irvine Welsh
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova

It's 20 years later so of course the worries, fears and hopes that concern Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Sick Boy – now going as 'Simon' (Johnny Lee Miller) are different from those of the heroin addicted kids they once were.

We met Mark running on a treadmill, one of the most evocative icons of a grown-up Generation X, endlessly running to nowhere to attain an arbitrary goal. We learn later that he's been living and married in Amsterdam after ripping off the take from the big smack sale the gang engineered at the end of the first film, but that he's facing divorce and his job is going nowhere.

Though the reasons he comes back to Edinburgh aren't made very explicit, that seems to be the extent of it. Maybe (as a lot of the critical chatter when it was out alluded to) he simply comes back because of regret. I either didn't realise or didn't remember from the first film, but Mark and Simon had been friends since they were kids, so maybe it's just that Mark was eaten up by what he did to the friend he now missed.

We find Spud in a similarly bad place, still addicted, unable to take care of the son he had with his now-divorced wife, and ultimately deciding to end it all. It just so happens Renton comes back at the right time, rescuing Spud after he's taken a bottle of pills and laid down on his floor with a plastic bag tied around his head.

And Spud's a lot more forgiving towards Mark than the rest of the gang. Simon now owns a pub with his young girlfriend, Eastern European refugee Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), with whom he operates a prostitution/shakedown scam, and when Mark visits, it results in a brutal snooker cue fight.

And even Simon's a lot more forgiving than Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle), as terrifying as ever despite still being banged up for the stretch he presumably got put away for at the end of the first movie. He springs himself in an ingenious and brutal way, reconnects with his wife and late teen son and straight away recruiting the straight-laced boy into the family line of work of robbery and extortion. But Begbie's main order of business when he discovers Mark is back in town is finding and bodily disassembling him.

Mark and Simon form an uneasy alliance to turn the upstairs of the pub into an expensive brothel, and Spud is soon drawn into the renovations, befriending Veronika, who encourages him to write about the boys' experiences as friends, criminals and addicts and giving him a new lease on life.

But it all shifts when Begbie and Mark find themselves sitting in nightclub toilet cubicles next to each other. Mark narrowly escapes and the chase is on across Edinburgh, giving the story a more dramatic, thriller-like thrust that climaxes violently in the half-rebuilt upstairs of the pub.

It's uniquely and unmistakably both a Trainspotting movie and a Danny Boyle jam. He's lost none of his approach to frenetic storytelling no matter how much the story is about having to grow up. There are a lot of visually lush stylistic touches, like the sequence of Mark saving Spud's life where he catches him after the latter has thrown himself off a building (interspersed with the reality of the situation, of Mark tearing a vomit-filled plastic bag off Spud's head).

And the scene of Mark and Simon getting high one last time is their inner mental experience projected outward, of them sitting in a room watching film of deer running across fields projected on the walls around them, upside down and in lurid, oversaturated colour.

And there's some moments of deep emotional sting, like when Mark and Simon taunt each other about Tommy (who died of AIDS) and Simon's baby (who died of neglect) in the first movie, neither of whom got second chances at life.

It's also nice to see a city in the UK treated like its real self by a director who's from there. Thanks partly to (mostly American) movies, we think of Edinburgh as a stately, brown place full of lords and ladies and period costume, but Boyle once again highlights its modern flourishes, from the colour to the decay. It's in something as simple as Begbie's initial pursuit of Mark through the carpark that lies in the hill underneath Edinburgh Castle - what other movie would reveal the simple truth that Castle Rock has a well-lit, multi-level parking lot underneath?

There's one major example of Boyle over-egging the pudding with Mark's 'choose' rant at the restaurant with Veronika – it's a bit shoehorned in, seeming to be both a signpost for the themes and a kind of branding, more fan service than anything to drive the story forward, and when it's over even McGregor looks slightly embarrassed by how much it jars.

But Boyle effortlessly balances the elements of nuts and bolts plotting that takes characters from point A to point B, enmeshing the themes seamlessly into character and dialogue and giving it a requisite visual wow factor we equate with both his and Trainspotting's names.

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