One of the major reasons for the adulation earned by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is the villains in the movies. From Ra's al Ghul to the Scarecrow to the Joker and finally, Bane, what makes them iconic is the trigger behind their tyranny. Their grievances against Gotham city are legitimate—nobody could argue against that—it's the method by which they address them that's problematic.
In Shankar's 2.0 (which has a Dark Knight Rises reference in its climax), a maddeningly ambitious film that has set the gold standard for action spectacles, Akshay Kumar's Pakshi Rajan has a valid concern against the rising radiation levels which are slowly destroying the environment's ecological health and killing birds. His character, before it manifests into a villain, is a bird scientist, which further legitimises his argument.
However, Pakshi's disillusionment with government institutions and the public apathy towards environmental concerns turns him into a villainous monster who sets out to wipe out everyone with a mobile phone. He justifies his massacre by saying that everyone with a cellphone has blood on their hands. To contain this flying monster, who takes the ominous shape of a blood-hungry eagle, demolishing everything that comes under its massive wings, Professor Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) must once again bring to life Chitti the invincible robot, who was dismantled in Enthiran after he went rogue.
2.0 is monstrously entertaining as far as the visual spectacle is concerned. Relying entirely on Shankar's vision, the film creates wildly original, pulsating action sequences, with every set-piece giving you a resounding bang for your expensive buck. When Pakshi's bird-monster first takes over, we see some stunning scenes as people's phones fly out of their pockets. From an expansive street turning into a phone screen and folding itself up into a line of trees that transform into cellphones, Shankar embeds his visual spectacles with subliminal messaging that is not lost on the viewer.
The intensity of the action sequences compound progressively, both in terms of their inventiveness and in terms of sheer scale—by the end, we see two mammoth iron-clad robots clashing aggressively with metallic thuds in a manner that would make Michael Bay smile approvingly (not that Shankar needs this). The special effects in the movie are at par with A-level Hollywood tentpoles.
Up to a point, the makers ensure that Pakshi's fundamental concerns, of corporate greed enabled by politicians who subvert rules at the cost of environmental damage, are legitimately addressed and his violent means criticised. Nonetheless, the dystopian premise, which could easily fit into a Black Mirror episode, remains just that—a means to justify the ensuing combat.
This callousness, a failure of the film's writing department, is revealed when Chitti the robot weaponises the birds against Pakshi, pretending to strangle pigeons while laughing. By now, we know that the concern for environment and birds, however relevant, is merely a device for the filmmaker to aid his visual exploits. So given the context, the climactic battle, though stunningly choreographed, feels a bit deceitful.
Shankar is usually better at handling action sequences so scenes involving emotional exchanges appear melodramatic and are treated with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The Hindi dubbing, especially, sounds fake, as the translation seems too literal. To ensure that both Rajinikanth's Vaseegaran and his alter ego Chitti have a redemptive arc, there are some cursory lines stuffed in towards the end about the 'harmful effects of radiation', to which Adil Hussain, who plays the Defence Minister, literally says, "Yes, I agree." Hollow.
There was a great opportunity for Amy Jackson's character (also a robot) to step in at least when the primary protagonist Chitti failed to challenge the crow. However, she's reduced to a mere assistant who quietly follows orders by the men around her. What is even more problematic is that her character is often observed through a romantic/sexual prism, unlike Chitti, who's identified by his abilities.
Other than these problems, which dent the overall experience of the movie, 2.0 is quite a wild ride, an interesting, even brave commentary on the horrors of hyper connectivity (there's a reference to the 2G scam), human disregard for other species and why a tech dystopia may not be as unrealistic as it sounds.
If a film with Rajinikanth manages to do this much, blatantly take on tech empires, one can pardon its insincerity for the sake of the greater good. Watch.
Read our review of the Tamil version.
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