Rajinikanth’s evolution from flesh-and-blood human to computer-aided prop is complete in Shankar’s 2.0, which has been released in Tamil, Hindi and Telugu. The sequel to Shankar’s 2010 blockbuster Enthiran stars the Tamil screen icon in two roles. But only one sticks – the character with Rajinikanth’s face transplanted onto a body that appears to have sprung out of a video game.

For all its attempted admirable 3D tech, 2.0 is a cautionary tale about the march of the machines. The 146-minute movie deploys every trick on its visual effects department’s console to sell the idea that cellular-phone technology is a terrible thing. Shankar was an early advocate of visual effects in his vigilante dramas, resorting to machine-aided sleight of hand even in sequences that did not require them. In 2.0, Shankar’s ability to marry visual effects with populist melodrama serves him well in some of the sequences, even though the larger message is confused and the screenplay is too sluggish for an action spectacle.

2.0 takes off from where the previous one ended. Rajinikanth plays Vaseegaran, the globally respected Indian scientist whom nobody told you about, and Chitti, the humanoid robot that he creates in his likeness. Chitti dominated the show in Enthiran despite going rogue, and was destroyed at the end of the movie. Only his head survived as a museum piece, retaining its pre-loaded intelligence and its ability to have the last word. When asked why he was locked away in a glass cage, Chitti replied, “I started using my brains.”

But the sequel is more about the brawn. Vaseegaran resurrects Chitti to halt a techno-avian apocalypse let loose by Akshay Kumar’s mutant ornithologist Pakshiraja. Modelled on Hollywood’s mad scientists who have imbibed the wrong fumes while slaving away in their laboratories, Pakshiraja goes into a flap after drawing connections between the proliferation of cell towers and a dip in the bird population. His actions cause cellphones to fly out of the hands of their users – a moment milked beyond its initial impact – and he creates a dazzling bird-shaped costume that will fit right into the Met Ball. In response, Chitti returns with the help of fellow android Nila (Amy Jackson) to cut off Richard’s wings.

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2.0 (2018).

The series of assaults on urban facilities will be familiar to consumers of Hollywood destruction porn. Yet, as in Enthiran, Shankar adds his own touches. The director has additional credits for designing the visual effects and the action, and it is the moments where Pakshiraja pays a big tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and rains terror from the skies that keep the attention from wandering in the pre-interval section.

The humans take the backseat as mutant and machine go mano-a-mano in the second half. Vaseegaran is a mostly passive figure, while Chitti’s athleticism can safely be attributed to the contributions of unheralded stunt artists and computer-aided trickery. Other actors make brief and unmemorable appearances, including Adil Hussain and Sudhanshu Pandey. Aishwarya Rai, who played Vaseegaran’s lover in Enthiran, is a voice on the other end of the phone this time (her absence from Vaseegaran’s life is never explained).

Amy Jackson gets the worst treatment. More sex doll than android, Nila is this movie’s idea of the perfect female lead: one who has oomph, blindly follows orders, and barely uses the intelligence that has supposedly been fed into her. We need somebody who can take on this bird-man, somebody who cannot die, Aadil Hussain’s minister says. That weapon is sitting in the room next to Vaseegaran, but Nila is never allowed a scene that establishes her worth in a movie dedicated to the Rajinikanth mythos.

“I am not number one or number two, I am the only one. I am the super one,” Chitti declares. As in Enthiran, 2.0 has fun channelling Rajinikanth’s flamboyance, but the actor remains a prop for his director’s grand ambitions of delivering a Hollywood-style spectacle. Rajinikanth’s sly charm is allowed to peek through in some scenes, but his Chitti is too human for a robot and not machine-like enough for an android. The show surprisingly belongs to Akshay Kumar’s Pakshiraja, who generates some pathos for his concerns although they are based on pseudo-science. Even here, his mutant version is always more engaging than the human. Two legs bad, two wings better.

Akshay Kumar in 2.0 Courtesy Lyca Productions.
Akshay Kumar in 2.0 Courtesy Lyca Productions.