2.0 : Movie Review
Rating : 3.5 stars out of 5 (between Good and Excellent)
Director & Writer : S. Shankar
2018 . Tamil, Hindi, Telugu with English subtitles available
"SHANKAR-MATH" : 2.0 + 2.0 = 5.0
Good work aside, he does not know when to stop the dreary additions !
Large-scale King of India - S. Shankar ( I was going to say South India but North or South, there is no one like him) seeks to outdo himself with 2.0 , the second instalment of his Endhiran (2010) - the sci-fi blockbuster that detonated India's glass ceiling in the arena of lavishly mounted CGI movies. The new flick's first one-third delivers darkly yet devastatingly well in fulfilling Shankar's promise of high imagination careening with dazzling special effects. The eco-friendly lone-wolf hero turned carnage-wreaking villain who launches this story into motion, is a triumph of imagination, his spectral enormous body formed from aggregated millions of a gadget which has become indispensible to us. Alas , as this movie propulsively lurches forward on its heavy sci-fi weight, the bills payable to U.S.A's Legacy Effects for the computer effects keep mounting , while the creativity-meter does not keep up-ticking in parallel. For its rather one-track storyline, pic drags on at least fifteen minutes too long in its 147 minute runtime . A kid could probably not conceptualize the villain's impressive genesis , but a child could well dream up the lumbering clash of techno giants that closes the pic.
The true evolution of CGI (computer-generated imagery) is not even more mind-numbing CGI - rather it is the melding of this futuristic dazzle with its effect on emotion and life. The humbling emperor in this genre is Spielberg's 'Minority Report' (2002) . Mid-way through 2.0, it is fairly evident that pic will not sprout magnificently reflective wings dovetailed into its hardcore action flight. What about doing a 'Matrix Reloaded' ? Even on that count, once the initial razzle-dazzle peters out, the rather ham-handed fights, however expensively mounted they are, do not amount to eye-popping action set pieces that will leave you circling back to Youtube reboots years later.
But Shankar excels in unexpected areas. You have cinema purists who only endorse very sparing, subtle use of 3D. Shankar boots their concerns to where the sun don't shine and shoots his movie unashamedly in native 3D. Few opening credits are as in-your-face as this one , the 3D effect jacked up to the max as the letters and graphics leap out and gleamingly parade in front of your eyes, even as you enter through a tunnel, each zooming letter announcing the name of the starring legend - RAJNI ( some people leave out their surname knowing that their first name alone is enough, this mega-gentleman Rajnikanth basks in the knowledge that even half of his first name is enough !)
The start, even after that eye-popping start, is once again inspired. Have you ever been worried about the health effects of mobile phones ? I once did away with the use of mobile phones altogether for several months but pressures from work and family eventually caved that resolve in. In 2.0, a man named Pakshi Rajan ( king of birds) nestles and champions an admirable eco-concern , for his avian buddies in particular. He sees that their numbers are plummeting and comes to the conclusion that rampantly sprouting cellphone towers which flood us with electromagetic waves are killing off the birds. His appeals to cellphone company honchos and politicos to curb the radio wave eruption, fall on deaf rude ears. As for the public, well , would your chuck your mobile-phone away for this man's entreaties ? A dark ending later , a remarkable mass event happens - it's brilliant conceptual idea as we see the entire city's people shocked out of their wits at what's happening.
The gleaming swarm which thus forms, is a striking super-organism, inspired in its composition, and haunted by paranormal revenge ( a shot of them sweeping over a compound wall, somehow made me pleasantly remember some of Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli creations).
The world should now be saved not by some over-arching American but by a nice Tamil scientist , who also dubs effectively in Hindi and Telugu. Enter Mr.Vaseegaran, who many of us had seen in the first version. The aging balding super-legend Rajnikanth is again given a top-class make-over with a stylish wig and a cool frenchie beard but these would not count for much were it not for his truly evolved techniques of data presentation and explication. When called upon to scientifically explain the odd events happening, he uses not moth-eaten charts but slick holographic representations. Soon he must re-awaken his trusted robot 'Chitty' and if that is not enough, there is the wicked successor "2.0" to combat the public-massacring marauder.
Shankar's 2005 flick 'Anniyan' had a different kind of dark vigilante, and it leavened the intense proceedings, among other devices, with composer Harris Jayaraj running colourful riot with an array of catchy songs in diverse genres. Here there are only one or two songs - by no means is that a negative , of course ( it would not hurt India to increasingly tolerate and enjoy songless films) but in this case, it means there are virtually no artistic distractions to soften the rather militaristic proceedings-'n'-techno carnage. A R Rahman - the greatest of composers - is left rather confused at what exactly director Shankar had in mind for this film's music. Rahman's genius in song composition has only occasionally flowed into the background score for his films and in 2.0, the BGM hardly makes an impressive note. Cinematographer Nirav Shah deserves pass marks for his competent handling of a logistically difficult canvas which few of his compatriots have ever been confronted with, but sadly there is no real vision here. We could have had innumerable fantastic shots - after all this is a film about seismic fights, explosions, sky-high ascents and swooping dives courtesy a giant bird but we are never wowed by visual chutzpah. Editor Anthony's scissors are blunt, doing little to sharpen action sequences, a problem compounded by pic's bloated length.
Thespian bravura is sacrificed at the altar of bull-headed focus on action, and while this is not a major crime in action flicks, it becomes more evident when the callisthenics wear thin. British model Amy Jackson is one of the most svelte and beautiful actresses to appear in Indian cinema (seen before in 'Ekk Deewana Tha' amongst other movies) and while her acting is not wooden here, there is precious little dramatics in store for her, continuing Shankar's neglectful tradition of relegating female roles to useless second fiddle. 4D Star Rajnikanth, splits into a triptych of roles alright - all different-natured and all one to two-dimensional - but frankly what's the punch is recruiting a man like this, his insanely powerful saleability aside, when his fabled theatrics are clipped so blatantly ? Audiences will recall the legendary scene in 'Padayappa' where he uses his shoulder towel to do what no man has done before - in 2.0, the max he does is to take the towel beside the wash-basin in his house and whip it dry before using it - the Rajni of yore would take just that towel to take down Godzilla ! Hindi superstar Akshay Kumar's negative turn is also drearily hued - continuing his distinguished knack of minting uncountable crores with minimal acting and ultra-canny movie vehicles.
Then what really keeps 2.0 going ? In the titanic clash between "property" and Rajni, it is the former. Shankar's fairly involving storyline and throw-by-the -bushel use of special effects anchors the film throughout. Hitchcock's outstandingly inspired "Birds" may be a distant inspiration but the 2.0's mega-villain will remain amongst modern Indian cinema's memorable antagonists, at least in anatomy if not in psychology. At the mid-point when the thrills dip, Shankar thinks up a smart plan to make the return of the villain interesting. At the end, there is another cunning chess move, this time a kind of emotional blackmail, to limit the villain. On a larger thematic level, there is the writer-director's remarkably persistent drive implicit in his cinema against corruption. Indian (1996), Nayak (2001), Anniyan (2005) all had a positive nation-improving vibe , often dangerously vigilante but always well-meaning underneath, and this rears its conscientious super-beak again in 2.0 . Some cynics would scoff at this, but I find it a powerful and genuine auteuristic signature. Tamil Nadu's other big director from more than two decades - Mani Ratnam - has made many movies which are less hyper-commercial, yet with a somewhat similar but more persuasive and humane national spirit and together these disparate Tamil pezzonovantes represent some of the best and most constructive of India's cine-mainstream.
India today is home to a handful of top directors ( Selvaraghavan, Anurag Kashyap and then perhaps Imtiaz Ali, Dibakar Banerjee) but helmers who rock the CGI arena are mostly still in their infancy. In this latter domain, Shankar treads audaciously and trail-blazingly, despite the uncertain return on investment and the country's shortage of experience with sci-fi extravaganzas. Within five days of the release, the movie has ratcheted up Rs.400 crore careening closer to its mammoth budget of Rs.543 crore (India's most expensive movie, now well on its way to handsomely making good on that input). What is also a salute-worthy triumph and exquisite irony is the way this technologically advanced film makes its beseeching case for lessening the rampant abuse of technology.
UPNWORLD welcomes its comments.