“T2 Trainspot­ting” not quite a re­turn to form, but a wel­come mu­ta­tion

★★★✰ Dark com­edy. R. 117 min­utes

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By John Wen­zel The Den­ver Post

One of the most ap­peal­ing things about 1996’s “Trainspot­ting” was its smack-you-in-the­face vigor. In nearly ev­ery scene, and cer­tainly in the film’s ex­plo­sive in­tro­duc­tion, di­rec­tor Danny Boyle and his at­trac­tive cast of­fered a sense that a strong (oc­ca­sion­ally over­worked) heart was pump­ing blood to all the film’s vi­tal or­gans.

The same ki­netic cam­era work, hip sound­track and al­ter­nately en­er­gized and melan­choly edit­ing sup­plies a ruddy char­ac­ter to the se­quel, “T2 Trainspot­ting,” which re­vis­its our heroin ad­dicts in hard­scrab­ble Ed­in­burgh, and is again adapted from au­thor Irvine Welsh’s work (in this case, the 2002 novel “Porno”).

“T2” can­not help but live in the shadow of that same vigor, now re­cast as a sort of mid­dle-aged ex­haus­tion. But im­prob­a­bly, the film vaults over most pit­falls of long-threat­ened se­quels while evolv­ing the del­i­cately crafted world in the orig­i­nal. It’s a more sober, ma­ture film, but no less en­ter­tain­ing or provoca­tive.

We’re rein­tro­duced to agree­able ex-junkie Mark Ren­ton (Ewan McGre­gor) as he jogs on a tread­mill in a ti­tle se­quence that in­ter­sperses grainy images of him play­ing soccer with his boy­hood mates. The fact that he col­lapses at the end of the se­quence hints at a line from later in the film: “Be ad­dicted — to some­thing else.”

Ren­ton, now a more but­toned­down type, has come back from Am­s­ter­dam af­ter ab­scond­ing with the ill-be­got­ten money of the first film. The gan­gly, put-upon comic re­lief Daniel “Spud” Mur­phy (Ewen Brem­ner) is still a junkie, and we see him scrap­ing bot­tom in a way that com­petes in vis­ceral dis­gust­ing-ness with the orig­i­nal’s iconic “Worst Toi­let in Scot­land” se­quence. (His char­ac­ter arc turns out to be one of the most sat­is­fy­ing.)

Si­mon “Sick Boy” Wil­liamson (Jonny Lee Miller) is a coke­head who has taken up with the young, pretty Bul­gar­ian pros­ti­tute Veronika (An­jela Nedyalkova). He pours pints for re­tirees at his aunt’s di­lap­i­dated pub while schem­ing for longer, slightly more le­git cons. The vi­o­lently un­pre­dictable Franco “Fran­cis” Beg­bie (Robert Car­lyle, in fine and ter­ri­fy­ing form) has es­caped from prison and is out for re­venge on Ren­ton for swip­ing his drug money. The char­ac­ter pro­vides the film’s most de­li­cious ten­sion, and Car­lyle’s per­for­mance de­serves any award it’s likely to get.

Boyle takes his time re­unit­ing them, let­ting them stray into each other’s or­bits in­stead of smash­ing them to­gether — ex­cept when nar­ra­tively ap­pro­pri­ate. Along with screen­writer John Hodge, Boyle is self-con­scious about “get­ting the gang back to­gether” se­quences — fit­ting of the orig­i­nal, even down to a squirm-in­duc­ing fight that en­sues when Ren­ton strolls into Si­mon’s bar.

“T2” is an im­pres­sive ex­er­cise in wran­gling and fil­ter­ing. The va­ri­ety of set­tings and sit­u­a­tions can feel dis­ori­ent­ing, es­pe­cially with Boyle’s clever (yet un­ob­tru­sive) spe­cial ef­fects that word­lessly com­mu­ni­cate the ephemeral na­ture of mod­ern in­ter­ac­tion. As with the orig­i­nal, how­ever, it un­folds in ways that are both re­fresh­ingly car­nal (in­clud­ing full frontal male nu­dity, rarely seen in even R-rated Amer­i­can films) and thought­ful as a mat­ter of course, each line and lin­ger­ing shot im­bued with a showy the­matic weight.

The film is about ad­dic­tion in more ways than one. Dur­ing mas­ter­ful scenes in which Si­mon and Ren­ton at­tempt to rob a union­ist pub in Glas­gow, or qui­etly pull a more high-minded heist while ap­ply­ing for a loan, we’re pre­sented with ex­am­ples of how quick we are to trust peo­ple whose views seem­ingly match our own — and how eas­ily that can be turned against us with cyn­i­cal emo­tional trig­gers.

De­spite the odd com­men­tary on whip­ping peo­ple into a frenzy, how­ever, the film doesn’t do much with drug ad­dic­tion. It chiefly ex­am­ines what di­rec­tor Boyle has called “deeply dis­ap­point­ing mas­culin­ity.” From Beg­bie’s fail­ing viril­ity to awk­ward male bond­ing (with soccer as a cen­tral metaphor) and failed fa­ther­hood, “T2” is a bruis­ing med­i­ta­tion on the empti­ness of de­fen­sive men. That it’s a boy’s club is a fore­gone con­clu­sion, but stronger fe­male char­ac­ters than the young, wide-eyed Veronika, or a tan­ta­liz­ingly brief scene with orig­i­nal cast mem­ber Kelly Macdon­ald, would have been ap­pre­ci­ated.

Di­a­logue al­ter­nates be­tween sharp and daz­zling, la­conic and spare. Ow­ing to its anx­i­ety about a world that has moved on, every­thing feels sanded down, sleek and co-opted in some way. Only when we get into the grit­tier third act does the de­cay be­neath every­thing start to leak into the film’s sat­u­rated color pal­ette.

As be­fits its di­rec­tor and sub­ject mat­ter, “T2” is only oc­ca­sion­ally ob­vi­ous about the fact that it’s the se­quel to an in­flu­en­tial film from an­other decade. It mostly prefers to show us new an­gles on fa­mil­iar char­ac­ters and places. Fans of the orig­i­nal are well served in that sense, since youth­ful in­dis­cre­tion is more than just a con­cept in “T2.” We’re bet­ter off now, even as we’ve lost some­thing, it seems to say of aging. Re­gard­less, time moves us all.

Jaap Bui­tendijk, Sony TriStar Pic­tures

Ewan McGre­gor, left, re­turns as agree­able ex-junkie Mark Ren­ton, and Jonny Lee Miller plays Si­mon “Sick Boy” Wil­liamson, who has taken up with a young, pretty Bul­gar­ian pros­ti­tute, in the “Trainspot­ting” se­quel “T2.”

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