Reprising their roles from the original film, the entire main cast ekes a maudlin triumph from betrayals masked in karma – Ewan McGregor plays Mark “Rent Boy” Renton with the same melancholy bravado that made the role so memorable in the 1990s, and in the strident, ratlike mixture of cunning and terror of Jonny Lee Miller’s performance as Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson lies the same strange dichotomy and utter insanity that colored the character so perfectly then as now. T2 wants to do right by these characters; after all, we have followed them across their failures and have come to root for them in their hopeless, empty-handed anxieties. Through drugs and heartbreaks, tipsy business ventures and the stale taste of Mark’s bitter betrayal two decades prior, Simon’s relationship with his closest frenemy is fraught both with nostalgia and a sense that, deep down, he has always understood his childhood chum better than anyone – and he loathes himself for it.
Robert Carlyle’s snarling, horrifying Francis Begbie is stuck in a loop of a character arc – his escape from prison and reunion with his wife and now-teenaged son seems meant to instill sympathy for him, and yet he reeks so strongly of contempt that the losses and broken connections he feels don’t end up meaning as much as they should. Instead of playing to the pathos of Begbie’s torn and wasted life and his inept efforts toward reconciliation with his son and his feelings about his own father, his mob-boss intimidation is a large part of the most comedic and irreverent scenes in the movie. He fails to grasp the lesson he’s supposed to learn, and as a result, we don’t empathize with him the way his more tenderhearted companions do at the crux of their stalemate, even as they’re doing everything they can to get away from him.
Of the main four, the only one to truly undergo any meaningful sort of growth is Ewen Bremner’s cartoonishly tweaked, innocent-hearted Daniel “Spud” Murphy. Tragically maladroit, it is his clumsy, almost sweet persistence at bettering himself that reminds us why he is the only one Mark spared from past theft. Over the course of the film, Spud begins to carve a stronger identity for himself, one that hinges on something he wants so desperately to have faith in and be good at that the heart breaks watching him try and try again to find his own voice – unintelligible as it may at first seem. Our most fervent empathy stretches to him, though he is far from being a warm or welcoming character for our sympathies.
T2 finds the most dangerously jagged edges between its characters and sharpens them, smartly, using hints of its predecessor flowing through it as an undercurrent. It shimmers with brilliant reflections of Trainspotting’s original soundtrack, crisp lines and bold angles, jangling like its regional jargon and bumping along much as the sequel to the novel does – Porno finds the characters a decade before T2, but the sad realities of their unsung potentials, poor choices and conniving, cruel relationships with each other is just as palpable in the film. It bites at the cracked, painful nihilism slivered through its themes, but it’s unclear by the close whether it’s snorted enough of the good stuff to stay high.
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