Shankar’s Robot provided a sprawling, goofy sci-fi epic without much of a coherent theme (though including the important lesson “don’t let your robot servant date your girlfriend”).
Eight years later, the sequel, inconveniently titled “2.0,” has a much clearer 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 much more focused and story-driven than Robot, cutting out the musical numbers and most of the whimsy of the original. The musical numbers, in particular, feel like a major loss, giving 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 desctruction. The flat blue lighting from thousands of cell phones becomes a specter of death, far more terrifying 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, 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.
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.