Movie Review: Baahubali 2 – The Conclusion.
Tollywood epic Baahubali 2 is one of the most exciting action movies in decades.
Coming fresh from the cinema, it’s hard to review Baahubali 2 critically…because the movie is just so breathlessly entertaining and, indeed, EPIC that I’m having trouble taking off my film lover hat and putting on my film critic hat.
The action is exhilarating in the way modern Chinese epics like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger is exhilarating. The cinematography is gorgeous in the way that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings was gorgeous. The characters are heroic and larger than life in the way Zack Snyder’s adaptation of 300 was larger than life. That the film mostly succeeds in welding all of these influences into one fantastic experience is a tribute to director S.S. Rajamouli.
Baahubali 2 – The Conclusion (2017)
Picking up from the end of the first movie, we have young Shivu (localized elsewhere as Shiva) listening to the tale of how his famous warrior father, Amarendra Baahubali, was betrayed and murdered by his jealous half-brother, Bhalladeva. Upon hearing the epic story of how the love of princess Devasena caused Baahubali to fall from power, and of how Bhalladeva used their love to steal the throne, Shivu (now known by his rightful name, Mahendra Baahubali) sets out with his rag tag band of followers to take his kingdom back.
Night and Day.
This film differs from the first in many pivotal ways. The first film is mostly about young Shivu, and his genesis and weird courtship of Avanthika. Shivu is cocksure and capable, but we don’t know why. His actions come off as arrogant and unlikable. Once we get his backstory we start to understand.
Baahubali is instantly charming. His training montage shows a youth willing to suffer any pain to honor his mother, the Queen. Not please, but honor. He does stuff she doesn’t even see, just to keep her safe. As a man, he is carefree and cocksure, but for a reason. He’s a god among men, and he takes pains to protect those weaker than him, even while enjoying his strength.
Gods and Men.
Baahubali is a mythological character. He has godlike power and poise, and the classic mythic foibles: he is foolish in places and he is over-sure of his own abilities. This turns into a wonderful romance sequence where he tries to sneak into Princess Devasena’s graces as a simpleton, but she quickly sees through it. She even sings a song for him to eavesdrop on about how she’s not fooled, but doesn’t need to be fooled because she already likes him. Their love story is two sided and beautiful.
His power also turns into a tragic arc where he can never see evil for what it is, always trusting others to be as honest as him. His brother constantly bamboozles him, and then sets him up for trouble. It’s a tale as old as time, like Thor and Loki.
Beauty and Majesty.
This is a beautiful film. It is heavily overlaid with CGI, but it rarely feels misplaced. My initial reaction to it was similar to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: there is plenty of CGI, but also plenty of props and conventional effects. The whole weaves together. The early parts of the movie have some of the best computer effects I have seen in years. In particular, Baahubali and Devasena board a CGI swan boat and use their respective power to launch it into the heavens, all while singing a love ballad. It is beautiful and powerful, and looks amazing.
Even in places where I noticed the computer work, I didn’t really mind it. The final arc is mostly fight scenes a la 300, where time slows down and a majestic shot of violence is crafted. If anything, this film does Zack Snyder one better, and makes each scripted sequence feel even more grand. Occasionally you spot a weird shot that looks fake, but it is either quickly hidden or absolved by being part of a much bigger sequence.
I can’t fault Baahubali 2 on nearly any technical aspects. The cinematography is gorgeous; if Peter Jackson won an Oscar for his work, Baahubali 2 should be in the running. The music and sound effects are marvelous; I want this soundtrack. The pacing is mostly solid, with the first two hours slipping by effortlessly, with the switch to Shivu’s story being a touch less effective.
The acting in this film is either wonderful or wonderfully overdone. Prahbas, who plays both Baahubali Jr. and Sr. is a hunk, who smiles like a TV commercial while mugging for the camera and performing some crazy action sequences. Ramya Krishna plays the Queen, and she is stately and amazing. Anushka Shetty is a blessing as the heroine Devasena, a fully fleshed hero in her own right. Even the villain, Rana Daggubati (great villain name) is great.
My one gripe about the film is the pacing, and it doesn’t just apply just to this movie. As a whole, Baahubali 2 is well paced…it just suffers from the whole two-part structure of the franchise. I applaud a director for not milking his material and going for the easy trilogy, but this franchise deserved it. The run times of both movies is about 3 hours, so you easily have 3 movies here.
The pacing problem is that each transition from son to father really robs the narrative of momentum. I would have loved to see this split up more organically. In the firs movie, I can tell you definitively where I would have cut scenes. Here, I don’t know. I just wish we had a more linear flow where we get to enjoy each protagonist for his own arc, with a middle movie setting up more story as a transition. Maybe Shivu would have become more compelling, because right now he really drags down the amazing story of his father.
Long Live Baahubali!!!
I loved this movie. Loved it. I liked the first movie, but thought it had many problematic aspects (as Nate amply covered.) I expected to like but not love this movie…but I LOVED it. I can’t say I’ve had as much fun or went on such an emotional roller coaster ride in years as I have with Baahubali 2, despite also having been amazing by Dangal. I was moved to tears by the soundtrack, the story, and the action sequences. It was that kind of movie.
Movies from India are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I would urge anyone to see this one. You don’t even need to see the first one. This movie has action, romance, great characters, and beautiful visuals. It has endless layers of historical and mythological complexity for analysis. The choreography for both dances and fights are impeccable. While it doesn’t finish as strong as it began, this movie is fantastic for so many reasons. Long live Baahubali.