There are about three films inside 2.0, India’s most expensive film to date (reportedly $76 million in U.S. dollars), and the first to be natively shot in 3D in the country. There’s a big, clunky superhero movie featuring a robot fighting against a giant bird made out of thousands of cell phones; there’s a fairly effective techno-horror film about mobile technology suddenly becoming sentient and killing people in gruesome ways; and there’s a timely political thriller about how radiation from cell phone towers is affecting the bird population.
Bursting back and forth at the quantum level, the end result is one of the most fun experiences you’ll get at the movies this year. The reason why has everything to do with the talent involved.
[Ed. note: the rest of this story contains mild spoilers for 2.0]
Despite 2.0 having a bright and colorful poster, and the involvement of both director Shankar (Nayak) and Rajinikanth (who accompanies his nickname “Superstar” in every piece of marketing), this sequel to the robot-superhero blockbuster Endhiran starts out like a horror movie. The film opens in the middle of a storm, as we see a man climbing a cell phone tower and hanging himself, dozens of crows and sparrows flying around him in a sinister fashion.
Shankar stresses his point about our overdependence on phones by literally turning them against humanity. 2.0 shows thousands of phones flying out of users’ hands and up to the sky, only to return as a sentient, bright cloud of metal and circuitry that murders people. In a scene more akin to David Fincher’s Seven than Endhiran, we see a phone salesman wake up in his room to the ringing of a phone he cannot find. When the man sits up, the entire room lights up, with the sentient cloud covering all the walls, before shooting a stream of phones into the man’s mouth, making him explode into a splatter blood. 2.0 doesn’t give us a reason for the killer cell phones, but images like a telecom minister walking through a forest lit up by flying phone screens, which eventually swarm the man and crush him to death, make for a thrilling techno-horror film.
The film pivots from the terrifying to become a proper sequel to Endhiran, which reintroduces people who may not have caught the blockbuster to robotics genius Dr. Vaseekaran (Rajinikanth), who gets called by the government to help with the cell phone attacks. His solution? To bring his Astro-Boy-like robot Chitti (also Rajinikanth) back to life to fight the sentient cloud of phones that have now taken the form of a kaiju-sized bird. Along the way, 2.0 sneaks more than a couple of nods to Hollywood films like Terminator 2 and even a Ghostbusters-inspired proton beam.
Superstar Rajinikanth matches the film’s bombast with infectious energy. His Dr. Vaseegaran ends almost every sentence with the word “DOT,” while his Chitti acts like a B-movie Terminator with the suave charismatic power of Indian movie star Ranveer Singh. And if two Superstar Rajinikanths weren’t enough 2.0 literally brings you a third once Dr. Vaseegaran clones Chitti and makes an army of mini-Rajinikanth robots to fight the kaiju-bird.
Because of the relatively simple story, 2.0 isn’t offering anything we haven’t seen before, either in American or Indian films. The initial intrigue and the mystery of the sentient phones gets old fast, as you just wait for the mandatory flashback halfway through the film that explains the villain’s backstory. Luckily, plays the bad guy, and appears to be overjoyed to dress in his birdman costume. He’s even more over-the-top and larger-than-life as Rajinikanth.
Kumar plays Pakshi Rajan, perhaps the first on-screen villain ornithologist, and helps 2.0 explore a environmental theme, as Rajan becomes obsessed with trying to stop the telecommunication companies he holds responsible of the decrease in bird population. Kumar devours every scene he’s in, and he gets the coolest costume in the film, which puts both Michael Keaton’s Birdman and Michael Keaton’s Vulture to shame.
2.0’s biggest draw is its impressive use of visual effects, and the film doesn’t waste a moment to showcase its budget. The effects are detailed enough to stand against a $200 million-dollar American blockbuster. Then again, no modern Hollywood action movie would dare stage a final boss fight in the middle of a soccer stadium where hundreds of machine-gun-bearing Rajinikanth robot clones form a giant soccer ball to fight a giant cell-phone bird, and causing enough collateral damage to rival Man of Steel. Or, at least, we don’t think the Marvel Cinematic Universe is building towards that set piece in Avengers 4.
Unlike so many blockbusters, the real joy of 2.0 is a pair of performances. Shankar and Superstar Rajinikanth inject enough energy and heart to make an insane premise work and become one of the most entertaining experiences you can have at a cinema. That is, until 3.0 comes out.