Movie Review: 2.0
The sequel to one of the biggest Bollywood film of all times lives up to the hype with bombast, swagger, and gleeful silliness.
It took nearly a decade for director S. Shankar to follow up on his smash hit Enthiran/Robot. In that time the scope and the budget of the sequel, dubbed 2.0, swelled to mythical proportions. At roughly the equivalent of 76 million US dollars, it is the costliest film to come out of India and already well on its way to being a hit. Just based on its pedigree, the film secured more than half its budget in distribution deals, and it socked away 63 million dollars in its first weekend. Now that the tsunami has crashed onto American shores, I eagerly sat down to see if 2.0 could live up to the hype.
As it turns out, 2.0 not only lives up to the hype, it positively feeds off of it. Everything is bigger, bolder, and crazier than the first film. While the first film felt like an a few audacious ideas welded onto a Bollywood film trying to copy Hollywood action films, 2.0 fittingly doubles down on those big moments and claims them as an identity. It doesn’t always work, but more often than not the film wins big on those bets.
A decade has passed since Dr. Vaseegaran’s wonder robot, Chitti (both played by actor Rajinikanth) went on a rampage after being hacked by his jealous rival, Bohra. Chitti’s remains rest in a museum display, and Vaseegaran has gone on to create myriad other mechanical marvels, like his robotic assistant Nila (Amy Jackson). When an unexplained phenomenon takes control of every cell phone and turns them against their users, Vaseegaran and Nila are called on to investigate.
They discover a malevolent entity (Akshay Kumar) with a deep hatred for humans and their technology behind the murders, and it utterly defeats the pair and the Indian army. Despite opposition led by Bohra’s son, Vaseegaran gets permission to activate Chitti once again, upgraded to the more powerful 2.0 program, in order to combat the threat to humanity.
Polished and Shiny.
2.0 relies heavily on its visuals, and there have been some notable upgrades. While the CG for Chitti still resembles the slightly waxen look of The Matrix films, everything else looks polished to a high shine. The antagonist animates cell phones to create giant amalgamations such as a bird of prey or legions of blocky soldiers. These look good and really play with what is possible using phones like Lego blocks.
Another innovative use of the cell phones is that they function like individual pixels. The villain literally coats surfaces in cell phones and then uses the screens to manifest images to great effect. In one scene a victim runs from a tidal wave of cell phones into the woods, where suddenly every tree and stone is revealed to be covered in phones and the forest lights up in a ghostly, ghastly simulacra of nature. Shankar and his effects team seem to really have a blast testing out novel uses for their cell phone monster.
More Than Meets the Eye?
The exuberance to play with tech toys can sometimes make 2.0 veer uncomfortably close to a Michael Bay film. When the Indian army is routed, everything blows up and people fly through the air like an American disaster film. The fight between souped-up Chitti and our villain at the end feels very much like it rolled out of a Transformers flick. Other instances of the film flirting with Hollywood eye candy can be found, such as the machine Vaseegaran uses to capture the giant bird looking like it was ripped from the latest Ghostbusters and a mini version of Chitti (dubbed Kutti) feeling like an Ant-Man reject.
There is a whiff of the first film’s need to outdo Hollywood, but 2.0 often turns it into a strength. The way the killer stalks his victims and surprises them by replacing their surroundings with disguised cell phones reminds me of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and does a fairly good job of being tense and unsettling. The giant bird rampages like a classic Godzilla flick. Chitti’s early fights feel like phase one Marvel films (he even jokes that he’s literally an Iron Man.) Shankar’s inspirations are varied enough to hit more often than they miss.
Bollywood wouldn’t be Bollywood if it didn’t mash up genres with extended subplots. This film uses Bohra’s son as a red herring to reveal that the new menace is actually…the evil ghost of an ornithologist who blames cell phones and the big companies behind them for declining bird populations. I’m not making that up, and the movie treats it deadly seriously. So seriously, in fact, that we get about 45 minutes of a social drama biopic about his fight to reign in the greedy cell companies and their bribed government officials. It’s like the director slips Erin Brockovich for Birds into the silly robot fight movie.
It’s a pacing nightmare and overly sentimental, but I found myself not minding because the film is so set on making it the moral heart of the story. It’s ripped from the headlines and naively handled, but it is a commendable message in what is mainly a silly robot fight movie. Perhaps if it had been shrunk to ten minutes and inserted earlier in the film, it wouldn’t have been so jarring. Once again, I didn’t hate it and it is the only such intrusion (the film even has the good grace to place the only music video-style song and dance routine during the credits.)
A Game of Chicken.
2.0 is over the top on nearly every front. The set pieces are larger and more frenetic, the use of CG bolder, and the acting (especially at the end) more full of bluster and swagger. S. Shankar seems to be in a staring contest with big budget action films, constantly pouring on more spectacle and outrageous visuals while daring us to blink.
For all of that, 2.0 is also a much more focused and polished product. It’s narrative movements are better coordinated than Enthiran’s were, and it rarely loses focus on its through-line. While handled a bit clunkily, the villain’s subplot ties together and informs the first half of the film. It feels comfortable switching between earnestness and bombast. Nobody will mistake it for the Citizen Kane of silly robot fighting movies, but it feels complete and self contained in ways the first film didn’t. For a mega-budget action film, it delivers everything it promises with style and confidence.