It’s not easy to bash a film that’s clearly a groundbreaking technological achievement in Tamil, nay, Indian, nay Asian cinema — which this movie is, and I will get to that later — but man, I walked out of 2.0 wishing I owned one of those memory wiping thingamabobs used by agents Jay and Kay in Men in Black. 2.0 is less of a movie and more of director Shankar looking at himself in the mirror and jacking off… for 150 minutes! Oh and he’s having a really good time alright. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we’re not having nearly as much fun as he is and have to sit through this shlock of a motion picture.
It’s not just a schlock, it’s also a drag and at times stupid. Had this been a straightforward superhero-esque popcorn flick as we were teased throughout the film’s marketing campaign, I would be writing a completely different review right now. Instead what we get is a hodgepodge of mostly mind-numbing ideas that do not mesh and flow. The screenplay is an epic disaster, to say the least. I would be lying if I said this movie is just about Chitti (Rajinikanth’s robot avatar) taking on Birdman (Akshay Kumar). Heck, by the time Akshay Kumar even makes an appearance we’re slapped in the face senseless by animal rights messages and overt, facepalm worthy writing on how irresponsible politicians and corporate overlords can be.
2.0 flounders right from the get-go when people’s phones mysteriously get sucked into the sky. It’s obvious that this is a director’s cut through and through because we get not just one, not just two, not just three, but 5732 shots of phones zapping out of various individuals’ hands.
Old man talks on the phone; phone rockets away.
Young boy takes a selfie; phone rockets away.
Grandma talks on the phone; phone rockets away.
Small kid plays with a phone; phone rockets away.
Politician talks on the phone, phone rockets away.
Family using phones in the living room; phones rocket away.
Again and again and again and again and again. Usually directors would shoot a bunch of these and then pick the best two or three shots to be included in the film. But it feels like Shankar was so in love with everything, he opted to leave nothing on the chopping room floor.
Shankar is smiling, we are dying.
The same repetitiveness happens slightly later in the film when a bunch of politicians get killed off one by one. It reminded me a little bit of the opening sequences in Atlee’s Mersal. The difference is, there, medical personnel get taken out swiftly within the first couple of minutes by Vadivelu’s character, which sparks intrigue. Here, we see three ELABORATE set pieces revolving flying handphones assassinating politicians and rich people (yes, you read that right). The first set piece is understandable, as it establishes the ruthlessness of this supervillain. But beyond that, it gets dull and tiresome especially since these characters who are being taken out aren’t memorable and are just as unimportant to the story as the kidnapped medical personnel in Mersal.
Why are these scenes included in the movie? Because Shankar wants to show off his dick size. To be fair, Shankar has always been more about grandeur than nuanced writing. But here, he’s like a hyperactive toddler in a sandbox who’s given all the toys to play with and no one to tell him to cut the crap and go to bed. And I was sitting on my ass, bored out of my mind wondering where is this going? and when the fuck is Chitti the badass robot gonna show up? Believe it or not, there’s another mind-bogglingly repetitive sequence later in the movie involving Chitti, a giant robot bird and Vasi’s Scooby Doo vehicle. Urgh!
While the first movie is also rather self-indulgent at times (of course, it’s Shankar), large chunks of it are still bloody entertaining. And that’s because there, Shankar shares the spotlight with Chitti, and Rajinikanth uses his ample screen time to deliver one hell of a performance. I mean who can forget Rajini going, “Black sheep! Mehhhhh mehhhhh!” In 2.0, however, Shankar hogs the stage. This is HIS show and his show alone. Can you imagine watching a film starring Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar but not see them share the screen in a meaningful way? Both of them get buried under Shankar’s bombast.
Well, except for one scene.
When Chitti version 2.0 finally shows up — and trust me, by the time he shows up, you’ve probably already contemplated walking out of the cinema at least a couple of times — I felt the energy in the theatre change! Rajinikanth is so alive in this role, I turned to my friend and said, “this should’ve happened 40 minutes earlier!” Rajinikanth is now known for his heroic roles, but just like in Chandramukhi and Enthiran, he proves that no one can play a slimy douchebag quite like him too (Rajini was known for playing villainous characters back in the 70s and 80s).
The way he flirts with Nila (Amy Jackson, who’s also a robot), the sass, the cheekiness, it sent the theatre into a frenzy. These days, we tend to take Rajini’s acting prowess for granted. We say, “it’s Rajini. Of course, he’s good,” and move on. But what he does here, in that short sequence is a performance worth talking about. Whether you’re a Rajini fan or not, whether you love 2.0 or hate it, you will remember this performance for the foreseeable future. For the uninitiated, think of it as The Rock’s character/performance in the WWE, during the Attitude Era. You have to be a special kind of talent with a special kind of screen presence to say and do things that make people want to slap you and whistle their lungs dry simultaneously. Superstar Rajinikanth, at 68 years of age, is a freaking rockstar!
Akshay Kumar unfortunately, gets the short end of the stick. Yes, even shorter than Amy Jackson. Surprisingly, Amy Jackson’s Nila is a standout throughout the first 90 minutes. Could it be that Amy Jackson, South Indian cinema’s most critically panned actress, has finally found a character fitting of her one-note personality? — a robot. Or perhaps she, for the first time in her career, has finally come alive? Or maybe, for the first half of the movie, everything else around her sucked? Either way, I found myself transfixed on Nila. I wanted her to do more. I wished that by the end of the movie, she and Chitti would tag team against Birdman. Of course, that doesn’t happen. This is a Shankar film and in a Shankar film, as long as you have boobs, you’ll be domesticated, even if you’re a technologically advanced humanoid.
Anyway, Akshay Kumar. He’s a talented actor, who’s given nothing to do here. The fact that all of his dialogue is dubbed by a different talent, makes it worse. The character he plays is interesting in concept. A bird lover (I will spare the minute details since it’s kept a secret for large parts of the movie) and a delusional man who also makes a lot of sense, that eventually sinks into depression, only to transform into a supervillain hungry for revenge. Sounds cool, no? But for this to work, the character needs more depth than he gets and Akshay Kumar needs more room to perform than he’s given. Instead, for the most part, we get a giant bird with no personality. A CGI heavy fireworks display followed by typical Shankar flashback that’s void of emotion (accompanied by A.R Rahman’s forcefully melodramatic background score).
There isn’t a single ounce of tension in this movie, not a single moment that evokes emotion. It does have an abundance of head-scratchers, though. Like how on earth does Dr Bohra’s son break into Vasi’s lab so easily? And why, despite all the technological advancements, does Chitti’s battery run out so quickly? Don’t even get me started on the science in this movie. That said, the final battle between the two giant robots in the stadium is entertaining (Shankar uses wide shots so we can see the unfolding events clearly. You won’t find shaky cam nonsense here). Here, Shankar has pushed the technological boundaries of Indian cinema to a whole new level and for that I applaud him.
But ultimately, 2.0 is a giant stink bomb, with laughably terrible writing. It underutilises the biggest star in South Indian cinema and shortchanges one of the most popular faces in North Indian cinema for beautiful vomit. But hey, I’m well aware that I’m not this movie’s primary demographic. And I say that because I dislike Shankar as a director and I hate him as a writer, post Boys. His work is unabashedly showy in the worst possible ways (i.e Michael Bay with Revenge of the Fallen) and is disgustingly bombastic. (Note that I also absolutely dislike the Avatar era of James Cameron so that should tell you everything you need to know about my taste in movies.)
But if you go to the movies primarily to see giant things crash into other giant things which cause other things to explode, then you’re most likely going to get some form of enjoyment out of this movie. Also, if you’re a student of only Indian cinema then get your medical cards ready my friend, because your mind is about to be blown to smithereens. If you’re a Padawan of world cinema (like I am), then this is nothing you’ve never seen before. That said, I can’t help but smile thinking about how this film which cost US$ 75 million to make LOOKS better than Justice League, a Hollywood picture with four times that budget.
It’s not easy to bash a film that’s clearly a groundbreaking technological achievement in Tamil, nay, Indian, nay Asian cinema -- which this movie is, and I will get to that later -- but man, I walked out of 2.0 wishing I owned one of those memory wiping thingamabob used by agents J and K in Men in Black.