2.0 (2018) Review!!

Synopsis – A scientist helps the government investigate a threat beyond understanding.

My Take – Released back in 2010, director Shankar‘s film, Enthiran: The Robot led by South Indian superstar Rajinikanth and Aishwarya Rai, was one of the biggest cinematic marvels to come out of India. Achieving wide acclaim for its never seen before VFX, relevant story line and performances, the film went on set a landmark for Indian cinema presentation, only to be crossed five years later by another pan India film, Baahubali: The Beginning. While the Tamil based director went on to direct two films in between, Nanban (a remake of 3 Idiots) and the marvelous ‘I’, a sequel has always been on the cards. By adding Bollywood A-Lister, Akshay Kumar, and Amy Jackson as the female lead, the film undoubtedly promised to be a grand affair from one of the most talented, creative and imaginative directors in India.

Now eight years later, arising from an array of production troubles, the film has arrived grandly. Touted to be the costliest film ever made in Indian cinema, the visual extravaganza is one of only three 2018 films to be shot in 3-D (the others being Russian fantasy sequel ‘Viy 2‘ and the upcoming James Cameron produced and Robert Rodriguez directed, ‘Alita: Battle Angel‘), and is without a doubt a feast for the eyes. The film is packed with so much technical brilliance that it is very hard to put everything here. While A.R Rahman breathes life into the background score, every character has a different sounding and the manner in which the thrills are elevated are quite excellent. Also keeping in line with the social messages often found in his film, this one too fascinatingly integrates so many ideas into the screenplay.

However, what works against the film is its weak story-line, which does end up hampering the overall impact. It’s the kind of ambitious film that you wish would succeed if only for the obvious effort put into it by the team. But if you ask me which film I prefer, I would watch this once, yet recommend its predecessor.

Taking place a few years after the events of the first film, the story follows Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth), who has continued to excel and expand in the field of robotics with creation of new domestic robot he nicknamed Neela (Amy Jackson). Meanwhile, a strange phenomenon begins to occur in the city, as mobile phones of every citizen gets zapped into the thin air and disappeared without any sight, leading to chaos all around. While Vaseegaran suggests that his dismantled robot, Chitti (Rajinikanth), be reactivated, his arch rival Dhinendra Bora (Sudhanshu Pandey) objects, since the city is still recovering from the damage he had caused including the death of his father Dr. Bohra (Danny Denzongpa), all caused in the midst of Chitti’s rage to claim Vaseegaran’s girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai), for himself.

However when the head of a mobile phone company, a wholesale retailer of cell phones are brutally murdered, Vijay Kumar (Adil Hussain), the Home Minister sanctions Vaseegaran’s request to take on this evil force (Akshay Kumar) with a dark past. It’s not until the interval point that we’re told why. Why is all this happening? Who is this villain who seems to abhor cellphones even more than the average principal of an engineering college? Unless you’d been living in an island without any cellphones for the past few years, you’d know the character is played by Akshay Kumar. You can see why the Bollywood plug is there. This is India’s most expensive film made till date and it needs a pan-Indian appeal to make its money back.

Though the film felt patchy at some blocks, director Shankar manages to cover them up with his gripping narration. As I mentioned above, here too director Shankar has a topical message to deliver, like where have our sparrows gone? Asks a character in the film. The population of sparrows and other rare birds is diminishing as the radiation of cell towers is affecting them badly. This issue has become a hot topic among environmentalists and director Shankar has chosen relevant topic to tell a sci-fi film. However, instead of exploring it further, director Shankar moves into his comfort zone, where we see how the system is harsh on an honest nice guy, who ends up resorting to revenge in the form of vigilantism.

In the process, a social message is also embedded in the narrative, as characters are made to say that people spend more time with their mobiles than with their loved ones. However, the real star of the film is its VFX and special effects. The first and foremost thing that hits you right away is the sheer scale of the film. Apart from having a genuine social message, director Shankar has imagined something really different and made a visual spectacle which Indian film lover can be proud of.

You can’t but praise the magnanimity of the project as every penny spent is showcased through superb visuals on screen. The choice to go ahead with 3D and SRL 4D sound have worked wonders for the scale of the film and the intricacies behind the making deserve applause. Here, director Shankar exploits the 3D technology to a hilt, like cellphones rising like a tsunami wave to engulf roads, homes; cellphones swarming to form shapes that dissolve and re-organize into looming threats, cellphones gliding into the insides of human beings and ripping them apart. But it all comes down to the climax fight sequence. Director Shankar, having designed the sequences, proves to be someone with an insane sense of imagination. Each moment is designed to jolt you off your senses, with the audience going, “Woah”, in their heads, if not more audibly so in the aisles.

The formations, the new ideas and reloaded versions of older techniques just come together to form an amalgamation of something that is to be seen with awe. The intention of the film seems to be only to make an Indian equivalent of a Hollywood super-hero sci-fi action fantasy thriller. To a large extent, Shankar, his VFX supervisor Srinivas Mohan, sound specialist Oscar winner Resul Pookutty, cinematographer Nirav Shah and editor Antony have succeeded to push the envelope. You root for this film primarily for that good reason alone. At no moment does it disappoint you on that front.

But on the downside, story and treatment are pedestrian. There are no surprises or twists that one usually associates with such kind of a film. The motives in the story appear a bit too complicated on occasion. In order to add academic heft to the excessively detailed backstories in this sci-fi script, the references range from the four forces of nature–gravity, electro-magnetic, weak-nuclear, strong-nuclear–to Asimov’s laws of robotics, ornithology, and auras exuded by humans and birds alike. The core message of environmental damage is stomped on by multiplying bots and mini-bots that fire guns indiscriminately and use bird life as pawns to influence a favorable outcome in the battle with Pakshi Raja.

The “hero” becomes the menace as he fights for killer cellular towers and for the return of radiation. A film that pivots around technology and artificial intelligence should have laid as much emphasis on artificial (special effects, computer graphics, robots) as intelligence. But writer-director Shankar’s focus is largely on visually impressing the audience. Moments in this ‘superstar’ Rajinikanth vehicle are amazing indeed, but the director takes too long getting to the crux of the story and then, disappointingly, compromises on the message.

However, you know who never disappoints? Rajinikanth! The man is a phenomenon without any doubt. Even at this age, he is an one-man entertainment troupe with his unique style and swag. He holds the film together with his childlike enthusiasm and is there virtually in every scene. He plays different characters and does justice to each one of them. Especially, with the 2.0 version, where he comes up with unique mannerisms is just amazing and will be loved by the fans completely.

Despite the daunting task of not being overshadowed here, Akshay Kumar manages to stand tall. While his screen time is limited only to the second half, he elevates the proceedings in true style by playing the perfect antagonist. Amy Jackson too manages to hold her own, despite an underwritten character. In supporting roles, Adil Hussain and Sudhanshu Pandey are also good. On the whole, ‘2.0’ is a visual extravagant entertainer which despite the absence of quality screenplay manages to dazzle with its performances and spectacular VFX splendor.

Directed – S. Shankar

Starring – Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 148 minutes

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