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by Jay Seaver

"Maybe not an upgrade, but still crazy Indian sci-fi action."
3 stars

The long-awaited sequel to Shankar's "Enthiran" is in some ways a lot more conventional than its predecessor; with no musical numbers and no romantic comedy subplots, it's less likely to cause the sort of severe whiplash suffered by people who had never seen this sort of masala film but were looking for a big sci-fi action movie. It's still pretty bizarre for folks who don't know what they're getting into, and a lot of fun, if not the insane, jaw-dropping roller coaster its predecessor was.

Life in Chennai has mostly returned to normal since the android Chitti went on his rampage, and his creator Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) has recently built a new robot, Nila (Amy Jackson), who is sexy, sardonic, and a bit more bound by Asimov's Three Laws than Chitti was, making Vaseegaran's girlfriend Sana jealous when she regularly phones him. One of those calls gets interrupted by his phone flying away, which is happening all over Chennai, a mystery that stumps everyone from scientists to the government to the executives at the mobile networks, though the audience can probably draw a quick line to Pakshi Rajan (Akshay Kumar), the ornithologist who hung himself from a mobile phone tower at the start of the movie. When the phones stop just flying away but instead start returning to murder people, Vaseegaran says that the best way to fight them would be to reactivate Chitti, although some - notably Dhinendra Bohra (Sudhanshu Pandey), son of the AI researcher who opposed Vaseegaran last time - are prone to disagree.

Enthiran threw a lot of genres into its blender, but it wasn't really a horror movie, and I don't know whether it's thus logical or surprising that the first half of 2.0 turns out to be a good one, in a sort of 1950s way where there's a serious scientist investigating the paranormal - serious in attitude; the pseudoscience he spouts is kind of ridiculous - and a general public kind of perplexed by the strange things happening but not really alarmed. It's got a lot of little things that work - the everyday object weaponized against its users, some striking and eerie visuals, gross kills that are shot in a way that mostly allows one to imagine the worst, and a cell-phone-man monster design that should look silly but is actually genuinely creepy. It builds to the big and genuinely weird, with some big CGI effects that are simultaneously twisted and whimsical and climaxing on a big action scene that is kind of delightful not just for its scale but for how it makes Rajinikanth seeming stiff and less than fluid work in-character as Chitti wreaks havoc.

Somewhere around the point where Indian films normally have an intermission, Shankar lets the audience get to know the villain, and it's a process that starts out all right but eventually gets dragged out too long, especially since it won't be long for the tragic arc that flashback describes to get exaggerated into something just pointlessly vicious. Shankar seems to lose the plot in the back half, as Vaseegaran being sidelined means there's not really a prominent human in the middle of its mayhem between Amy Jackson's arch robot, Akshay Kumar's bird-man-ghost, and Chitti suddenly more manic and destructive than he had been up to that point (it's been eight years since the previous movie; jog our memory about the Red Chip before using it). Lots of what happens doesn't even make sense within the movie's anything-goes world, and it eventually devolves into a bunch of CGI creations pounding on each other. Some moments are clever, but the novelty of a few hundred Chittis connecting like an Erector set with a hive mind isn't what it was in 2010.

The lack of humanity on-screen during the climactic moments means that a fair cast is not able to give all they can, but they do all right. Once the flashbacks with a fair amount of surprisingly decent old-age makeover are done, Akshay Kumar is there to chew scenery in a ridiculous costume, and he doesn't let the audience down there at all. Amy Jackson does the dry humor of a machine that has been programmed to be a little too human well, and is good enough that one might wish she had more to do than just say "yes, your theory is correct" to Nila's master (it's kind of a bummer that the only major role for a woman in this movie is as an obedient machine built for sex appeal, with second place going to an unseen girlfriend whose phone conversations are all jealousy and clinginess and who may or may not be voiced by an unbilled Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Rajinikanth actually comes off better than he often does in these big-budget action pictures, especially in the first half, with the confidence he's supposed to project not turning into arrogance as it often does; his movement and mannerisms as the constrained Chitti also come together better than those of rampaging Chitti.

2.0, like Enthiran when it was released, is the biggest-budget movie ever made in India, and Shankar does a pretty good job of putting that money on the screen. Effects scenes are big and often fairly creative, and even shots like Rajan's initial walk to a tower that has become the bane of his existence are often strikingly composed. That includes use of the third dimension; the film seems to be split between native and converted 3D, and uses depth well without putting a lot in the audience's lap. The soundtrack by A.R. Rahman is good superhero themes that keep the audience engaged over a long sit, although songs have mostly been relegated to the background, which is a shame; "I'm Isaac Asimov's grandson" is probably the least peculiar lyric that gets a subtitle.

That "2.0" seems a bit of a let-down is partly subjective - I didn't know what I was getting into with "Enthiran", so how could this compare? - but it's also a case of having a messy second half and being a bit more conventionally focused. It's still kind of bonkers - this is a movie about a scientist and his robot assistants fighting a bird-shaped ghost made out of cell phones, after all - so it's still not like there's much else like it playing on the big screen right now.

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originally posted: 12/02/18 17:10:39
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  29-Nov-2018 (12A)

  29-Nov-2018 (MA)

Directed by
  S. Shankar

Written by
  S. Shankar

  Akshay Kumar
  Amy Jackson
  Adil Hussain
  Sudhanshu Pandey

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