Shankar’s Robot provided a sprawling, goofy sci-fi epic without much of a coherent theme (though what stands out as the most important lesson of that one is “don’t let your robot servant date your girlfriend”).
Eight years later, the sequel, inconveniently titled “2.0,” has a much clearer central moral: cell phone radiation is killing birds. (This is apparently a common theory in India about decreasing bird populations that has been neither verified nor disproven.)
More broadly, Shankar and star Rajinikanth set their sights on the dehumanizing aspects of our infinitely connected world and turn it into another sci-fi epic. This outing is significantly more focused from a narrative perspective and much more driven from its story than Robot, cutting out the musical numbers and most of the whimsy of the original.
The scrapping of the musical numbers, in particular, is a major loss. The big goofy numbers in outrageous settings with a massive cast of dancers was a major part of the appeal of the original. Why even bother being a sequel at that point?
The lack of musical numbers gives the film a colder, more dangerous tone. In the place of levity is a much more of a horror-tinged atmosphere. Shankar builds some genuinely stirring images of cell phones combining like particles into large entities of destruction. The flat blue lighting from thousands of cell phones becomes a specter of death, far more spine-tingling than anything in the first film.
The visual energy and creativity from the original remain, although the fight scenes feel heavily indebted to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A climactic fight in a stadium, in particular, has the vibe of a superhero film: a brutal one-on-one smash-up with the fate of earthly citizens not-so-subtly used as the stakes.
Rajinikanth once again delivers an all-in performance. Tonally, he has a bit less range this time around, but he plays more characters than ever and is never anything less than fully invested, totally commanding the film.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is missed as the love interest (Sana appearing only as a voice and cell picture), but Amy Jackson fills the charisma (and eye candy) void as Dr. Vaseegeran’s new robot assistant.
If you can get over the missing musical numbers, it’s ultimately a solid sequel, streamlining the messiness (and grueling runtime) of the original to deliver something darker and with a stronger voice. The action and visuals remain amazingly imaginative, so the set pieces will leave you breathless. The reduced color and sense of fun only slightly diminish the affair.
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.