“It’s certainly a phenomenon in all walks of life,” “Sick Boy,” a.k.a. Simon (Johnny Lee Miller) explains to his friend Mark (Ewan McGregor) in Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting. “At one time you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever.” To illustrate this he offers examples from David Bowie to David Niven to Sean Connery. “So we all get old and then we can’t hack it anymore?,” Mark replies.
It’s the sort of observation a kid who never expects to get old makes, and neither Sick Boy nor Mark — both low-level Edinburgh criminals with serious heroin habits — seemed like good candidates for collecting a pension in that film. But T2: Trainspotting finds them still alive, if not exactly thriving, in their forties. Mark’s wisely stayed far away from his hometown after fleeing with all that ill-gotten cash at the end of Trainspotting, but his mother’s death, and other circumstances, draw him back as T2 begins. Simon, when not running a dilapidated pub he’s inherited, has graduated from petty theft to blackmail, enlisting his sort-of girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), an Eastern European immigrant who helps him catch record men in compromising positions, into his schemes.
At least they’re doing much better than the other half of the original Trainspotting foursome. Spud (Ewan Bremmer) has continued to slide into addiction, watching the dream of a quiet family life slide away. And Begbie (Robert Carlyle), still enraged by Mark’s treachery, fumes in a prison cell — though, thanks to a daring escape scheme, not for long.
Reunions are as tricky a business in movies has they are in music. Will it just be a nostalgia trip? Do you have anything new to say? Does it matter? Will it be awkward for middle-aged artists to retread the territory of their youth? T2 puts its relationship with the first film front and center. Each character remains haunted by their reckless youth and Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge fills the screen with their ghosts. (Hodge also returns from the original film. His script draws from author Irvine Welsh’s original Trainspotting and the author’s sequel, Porno, which it diverges from significantly.)