January happened. The post-Christmas depression hit the bank accounts and minds of those going back to work/school/whatever preoccupies their time from the hours of 9-5. Then, to cheer us all up, Danny Boyle gave us a sequel to Trainspotting, Trainspotting 2. Wait, T2 Trainspotting? Whatever. Am I going to think about Terminator 2 whenever I see that title? Yes. I’m also going on the assumption you’ve seen or at least read a plot synopsis of Trainspotting. If not, WHY ARE YOU HERE? Spoilers ensue.
Okay, the big question, which is better? I’ll go through some reasoning first ’cause ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
We begin T2 with Renton deciding to return to Scotland, unable to forget his former addict life, unable to move on. This is the theme of T2, with the people he once called friends, and Begbie, waiting for him with all the consequences that ensues. You can imagine how that goes. If you haven’t seen the first one and somehow stumbled on to this without seeing the first one – HOW?
Okay, spoilers for a 20-year-old film – Renton walks off with 16 grand after a drug deal with his friends, where they were meant to split the money. On returning, reunions go… violently. Renton attempts to re-adjust to Scottish misery (read day-to-day life) while others plan revenge and some move on with their lives. Renton meets up with Spud, who gives him the warmest greeting of the 3 former friends – he attempts to strangle Renton after a suicide attempt. Sick Boy runs a brothel and blackmails his clients – he attempts to beat the crap out of Renton on seeing him. Begbie is in prison, stabs himself to escape and then is told Renton is back in town from Sick Boy. This becomes the film’s driving motivation – Sick Boy playing both sides while renovating his pub into a “sauna”. With pretty women. You can guess what is really meant here. Of course, this being Trainspotting, this goes as well as you expect.
Okay, it’s kind of hard to compare the two. Well, I find it hard. They both do things very well. The soundtracks are both standout picks. If I had to choose, I’d go with the first’s soundtrack for the mix of pop and rock, with the creeping influence of 90’s techno coming in, culminating in Underworld’s Born Slippy (NUXX) – the music choice reflecting London’s high tempo metropolitan life in comparison to the Scottish misery. The second film doesn’t have the same intrusive sound as the first, but Dad’s Best Friend by Rubberbandits makes a welcome appearance in one scene, prompting a humorous “What the hell is that?” from Renton when realising what he’s seeing.
Visually, the second one is better than the first for an unfair reason – it takes visual cues from the first. The last scene and the Begbie meeting Mark scene are two examples. Hell, the latter scene is one of my standout moments in the film. From the moment Radio Gaga plays till Begbie’s *ahem*… pills have taken affect is brilliant. It captures the humour and the cheap thrills that make your heart pound from the first. I make it sound like T2 can’t stand without the first, but Spud falling early in the film and Renton saving him, the scene in Sick Boy’s apartment with Veronika after the 1690 scene with the text on screen (which I am a sucker for – hello John Wick, you’ll be next!) and that final scene with the Iggy Pop remix playing and the parallel with the first films opening…
Not to say the first lacks great visuals or imagery, the drug trips being a trip for the viewer – Renton’s bad trip leading to the baby scene, anyone? Even the scene transition to it is well done, jumping from the wall and landing in Mother Superior’s, the trip itself, Perfect Day playing…
Damn. Now I’m not sure which is better. See what I mean when I say I find it hard to compare the two? Unfortunately, T2 lacks the gut punches the first did. Major spoilers here….
T2 has no Dawn moment. No contrast of a laughing baby in a crack den. No innocence snuffed out. No Tommy losing all he had, no kitten over a dead body. T2 lacks a sickly-looking Renton stealing a TV from a retirement home. This point lies under personal preference, but T2 lacks the… heroin from the first. No wild trips, no attempts to get off the stuff. Well, Spud aside anyways. Sick Boy has coke to fill his life. Spud is doing his best to kick the habit and Renton is clean. There is a relapse however, and it leads into the aforementioned Radio Gaga scene.
What T2 makes up for however, is Spud’s character. Formerly a dimwit along for the ride, Spud comes into his own. He begins at the end – a suicide attempt before Renton does his best to help him kick the habit. We find out what Spud has been up to for 20 years, and the skills he’s picked up along the way, giving us a new depth to the character.
A life of regret, of mistakes, attempted redemption. He lights up the film while Begbie returns to form, violent, manipulative and given a bigger look at than the first film. His last goodbye, coupled with Spud’s monologue is as damn near as T2 gets to the first in terms of emotional impact.
But I’m a low-key sociopath, how would I know about emotional impact?
Okay. Which is better? Drumroll please….
Oh. Wait. OPINION OPINION OPINION OPINION OPINION.
The first one. The imagery and soundtrack push out T2’s style and theme for me. When Trainspotting came along, it gave a look into the dark lives of those addicted to heroin and I feel that gritty, depressing look hasn’t been matched yet. Ervine Welsh gave a brilliant basis for the first (I am genuinely unsure how much influence his follow up, Porno, gave to T2) coupled with Danny Boyle’s direction, Ewan MacGregor et al giving it their all into becoming a gang of psychopaths, addicts and miserable Scottish bastards.
One final note. Choose life. The most iconic part from Trainspotting. T2’s monologue hits me harder. It resonates with this generation of social media. The first film’s Choose Life rant comes across more… Fight Club-like when looking back. You can take that as a good or bad thing if you want. It’s up to you. Choose your Choose Life.