It's nostalgia. You're a tourist in your own youth.
You remember the first time you saw it, don't you? A shaven-headed Ewan McGregor legging it down that Edinburgh street laden with stolen goods, Iggy Pop's Lust for Life his driving accompaniment. Trainspotting, adapted from Irving Welsh's novel of young lives supercharged then stymied by heroin addiction, provided a very different shot in the arm for British cinema. The film was vibrant, amoral and darkly humorous - and at points quite devastating. It also became iconic. A sequel could only serve to diminish the original, right?
Let me allay those fears. T2 Trainspotting acts as a dynamic companion piece to the first movie, with unique reasons for its own existence.
Twenty years have passed since Mark Renton (McGregor) ran off with the proceeds of the drug deal he carried out with his mates, enraging Sick Boy and the psychotic Begbie, but having tossed Spud a consolation prize of several grand. T2 Trainspotting's opening sequence brings us swiftly up to speed with where two decades have taken our dubious heroes.
Renton has spent the intervening years clean and sober in Amsterdam, but a change in circumstances brings him home to Edinburgh and the friends he betrayed. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) is running a seedy blackmailing scam with his much younger partner Veronika. Francis Begbie (the hilarious yet genuinely frightening Robert Carlyle) is predictably spending time at Her Majesty's Pleasure, but with no intention of staying there long. And poor tragic Spud has lost everything from the drug habit he never managed to defeat. What transpires when these old associates reconnect is consistently surprising and entertaining, and has greater power to move than their escapades back in 1996.
There are several reasons for the success of this follow-up. For starters it contains the DNA of the first film like they've shared a needle. Along with the four leads and a smattering of the old secondary characters, Danny Boyle is back directing, providing a similarly edgy sensibility and sense of the unexpected to the one he achieved before; the dark and the outrageously funny are as tightly woven, with moments to make you wince, laugh and curl up defensively in your cinema seat. All at once.
McGregor and co invest totally in the older but not necessarily wiser versions of their characters. Renton is smart and charming, but with life's tough lessons weighing on his soul. Sick Boy is desperate to retain the cool persona of his twenty-something days. Begbie still has power to terrify, with unexpected chinks of humanity glinting from under his hard-boiled exterior. And Spud is a masterclass in tragi-comedy, Bremner all but stealing the film from his fellow-actors.
The thing that makes T2 Trainspotting more than 'more of the same' is the twenty-year time lapse. This is a film about the perspective provided by middle-age on the mistakes of youth, and how getting older does not always result in maturity. The ghosts of the first movie haunt the protagonists throughout, even as they embark on new adventures, but whether or not any atonement can be made for the missteps of the past remains in doubt. You'll hope that Mark can make some kind of peace and that Spud is more than simply doomed, but only watching till the end will bring any kind of resolution to those questions.
There are good and bad reasons for creating a sequel to a loved film twenty years on. The reasons behind T2 Trainspotting are sound - and the result comes close to cinema gold.