As I already said in my No Spoilers review, this move is surprisingly good! Well, “surprising” to me, because I usually don’t like Shankar, and the trailer made it seem like just shallow action. So, I recommend watching it if possible without having read spoilers. But if you don’t believe it can really be that good, read the spoilers and then go see it anyway. Oh, and I should say it isn’t a total “anyone will love it” movie, so if you don’t like action science superhero films, you probably won’t like this.
Whole Plot in Two Paragraphs:
Scientist Rajinikanth is working on a new project with his Android assistant Amy Jackson when suddenly all the cell phones in Chennai are grabbed and pulled into the sky. He is brought in on a government committee to investigate and suggests reactivating Robot Rajinikanth to help fight this mysterious force. The government resists (lead by a government official who was killed by Evil Robot Rajinikanth), but finally gives in after the cell phones start reappearing and mysteriously killing people. Good Robot Rajinikanth is re-activated by Scientist Rajinikanth and Amy Jackson and fights the cell phone monster who is appearing as a massive bird made of phones. Scientist Rajinikanth figures out that the cell phone monster can be defeated by pure good power signals and builds a truck to send them out. Amy Jackson and Good Robot Rajinikanth and Scientist Rajinikanth worth together and manage to trap the Cell Phone monster. But while Good Robot Rajinikanth is fighting him, he gets shown a memory of why the Cell Phone Monster is doing this. INTERVAL
He used to be a gentle kind ornithologist, Akshay Kumar. He dedicated his life to birds and loved them. But he noticed them dying and realized it was because of the cell phone signals. He tried peaceful protest, educating people, asking the corporations and then the government to show basic restraint, and no one listened. Finally, in despair, he killed himself. And his aura/ghost came together with the aura/ghosts of all the birds who had died and he had buried and turned into this powerful angry force that is taking away all cell phones and using them to take revenge. Robot Rajinikanth understands his feelings, but still shuts him down. Robot Rajinikanth and Scientist Rajinikanth and Amy Jackson are all praised for their actions and Robot Rajinikanth and Amy Jackson have a few little moments indicating they feel something for each other. But in the middle of this, the son of the man that Evil Robot Rajinikanth killed in the previous film takes his revenge and releases Akshay Kumar’s spirit. He reappears and takes control of Scientist Rajinikanth’s body, which makes Robot Rajinikanth unable to fight him. Robot Rajinikanth is destroyed. Amy Jackson breaks in to the evidence locker and takes out the Evil Robot Rajinikanth chip and restores Evil Robot Rajinikanth and then taunts him that he cannot beat Akshay Kumar, which inspires him to fight. Evil Robot Rajinikanth fights and wins, partly through using little mini-Evil Robot Rajinikanth robots to ride on pigeons and threaten to kill them. but Amy Jackson had a kill switch built in and destroys him after he wins the fight. Scientist Rajinikanth wakes up in the hospital and asks the government to take common sense restrictions on cell phones and other advances instead of rushing forward blindly. And then he goes home to send Good Robot Rajinikanth off to Delhi for defense training, and sends Amy Jackson with him, having noticed their love. And LOVE SONG END CREDITS.
So, here’s what I find really interesting!!!! Rajinikanth is legitimately 3 characters. Scientist Rajinikanth is a little arrogant in his intelligence, a little uncaring of others because he is always smarter than them. Good Robot Rajinikanth is humble, just cares about people and humanity and doing the right thing. Bad Robot Rajinikanth is entirely egotistical, only cares about himself and his own pride and desires. And the smartest part of this, we can see how both Good and Bad Robot Rajinikanth came from Scientist Rajinikanth. The Good Robot is Rajinikanth without the arrogance, willing to call himself just the “shadow” of his maker. The Bad Robot is Rajinikanth without any care for humanity or others, only arrogance.
In the action scene when Good Robot Rajinikanth is destroyed, Scientist Rajinikanth has been taken over by Akshay’s aura. And both Rajini’s want to sacrifice themselves, Scientist Rajini wants to die so Akshay can be destroyed, and Good Robot Rajini lets himself be destroyed rather than fighting back. They are two very different people (people?) but they share the same core of goodness. And when we meet Bad Robot Rajini at the end, it is Scientist Rajini’s arrogance, need to be and be recognized as the smartest person in the room, that drives him. He will kill, he will destroy, he doesn’t care, so long as he is the best.
There’s a consideration in the action scenes that most big superhero movies are too dumb to make now, what happens to the innocent bystanders? When Good Robot Rajini is fighting, we see him over and over taking car of them. That’s his intro, using a big net to save falling people. But when Bad Robot Rajini is fighting, he wildly throws things and hits things and doesn’t bother to see where they land. What makes something good is not a willingness to fight evil, but a willingness to care for others.
That’s what makes Amy Jackson’s character strong as well. When she was first introduced, I had no patience for the idea. This gorgeous perfect woman was a robot, meaning Scientist Rajini designed his assistant to have big breasts and all the rest, how stupid!!!! But then we get to know her, and she has actual depth to her, in a robot sort of way. She isn’t there to do the big action scenes and save the day and she isn’t supposed to be. She is there to support others who can, and she can still be smart and important in her own way. It is her idea to sacrifice her own power core so that Good Robot Rajinikanth can keep fighting. And it is her idea to steal the evil chip and resurrect Bad Robot Rajinikanth. And it is her idea tempt and taunt him so that he will fight Akshay.
(She totally earned her place in this song)
In Robot, the first movie, Aishwarya’s character drove me crazy because she was such a non-entity, seemed to have no concept of the larger concerns of the plot and never really did anything until the very end that affected anything. She was just a Macguffin for the characters to chase after and desire. Somehow making the heroine a robot herself made Shankar’s instincts of minimizing his female characters much less dire. Amy Jackson (besides that opening sequence) is not a sex object, but rather an additional way for Shankar to consider the problems of robot-kind. A Robot who is not a fighter but an assistant, designed to be an assistant. Who is humble and helps others achieve their goals, but that doesn’t mean she is stupid and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have secret goals of her own. The ending, Scientist Rajini sending Amy and Good Robot Rajini off together, that felt like an earned and legitimate ending. You could argue the whole film is the story of Amy Jackson, going from being cheerfully uninterested and uncaring about the humans flirting with her, to gently excited at the idea of meeting Good Robot Rajini, to watching Good Robot Rajini and helping him without him noticing, to finally getting a sense that her feelings were reciprocated, then losing him. Killing her own sorrow and focusing on the mission, finding someone else she can assist (Bad Robot Rajini), guiding him to accept the mission she wants him on, then helping him achieve his goals, and finally getting what she wanted for herself, being freed from always serving others and allowed to go off with Good Robot Rajini and be herself.
Something else I wasn’t expecting and found very impressive, the way this film takes and builds on the plot of the original! It really didn’t have to, it could have just had a threat to Chennai, and then Scientist Rajini re-activating his robot. But it keeps the idea of the evil red chip Rajini Robot, it has long debates referring back to the previous film as to why the robot should not be re-activated, and the bureaucratic enemy has legitimate reasons to be angry, we see a flashback to the evil Robot killing his innocent father. There’s even a callback to Aish and her romance with scientist Rajini, through her calling him. It works within the film, we need another example of cell phone use, and also serves to bring her back into the plot and let us know that the film hasn’t forgotten her. And the ending brings it full circle, in the original Rajini built the robot to be used for national defense. He was told it couldn’t be used because it didn’t understand humanity. And then the robot was turned evil, Rajini defeated it, and it was archived. Now, once Good Robot Rajinikanth has proved his ultimate ability to care for others, the national defense contract is finally signed and he can find his own purpose in life.
And the final thing that really really impressed me (because usually Shankar and I have very opposing political views) was the attitude towards progress. Cell phones in India (from what I understand) are slightly different from cell phones in other places. For myself and other people I know in my age group in America, the cell phone is for texting and checking apps on the go. But when you at work, you have a computer. When you are home, you have a computer. If all our cell phones disappeared, it would be irritating, but we can make do with the computer instead. Yes no one has landlines and no one knows telephone numbers any more. But you know emails and you know Skype ids, you can still reach people and function in the world using your primary device, a computer. And the high speed internet that pumps into your home, your work, most places you go in the world. But from the little bit I know, I believe cell phones in India function as both the primary computer device and the primary internet device for most people. And this is supposed to be a good thing, that the Indian public has leapfrogged over the need for slow building infrastructure (which has given me my high speed internet at home and work and everywhere else) and the cheap smart phones flooding the market are a good thing, giving people access to basic modern life without needing any slow build to it or government assistance.
This is part of the general narrative that India is “better” because of how people cleverly invent workarounds for the lack of infrastructure, pride in people who build their own roads or their own power generators or water purifies. And yes, that is something to be proud of, those individual people saw a problem and fixed it. But as a nation, wouldn’t it make you more proud if no one had those problems and therefore no one needed to fix it? Isn’t it better to be dumb and lazy and not build a water purifier because your water is already pure straight from the tap?
The film doesn’t quite say that, at least not the way I would say it, but it asks for caution and care with these developments. Puts the responsibility firmly on the government to say “no” and enforce the rules for the common good, despite pressure from industry and the people themselves. It’s a good message, that Akshay was wrong in how he did what he did, but his motives were correct and we can understand them, there has to be care and there has to be thought before we move forward. Another interesting follow-up to Robot, where Scientist Rajinikanth in his arrogance thought he could do no wrong and his creation caused terrible damage. Now he has learned care, he is in control of what he makes.
It’s still not a perfect movie. The science is super questionable, lots of talk about “auras” which real science says are just optical illusions and has never proved. The effect of cell phones on birds is real, but it’s not 100% agreed as to what exactly is happening. Remember talk about power lines causing cancer and birth defects from years back? I turned out that it wasn’t the power lines themselves, it was that the power company was using a certain pesticide to keep weeds from the bottom of the polls. Anyway, the birds-cell phones thing is more definite than the “power lines-cancer” connection, but maybe still not the clear simple straightforward answer it is presented as here.
And it won’t work if you don’t buy into the Rajini thing, you definitely have to be entertained by his style to enjoy the film. And some of the speeches are a little too long and too repetitive. And some of the action scenes go on a hair too long. But overall, it’s still very very good. I would say far better than the original, and better than most international big special effects films we have been getting.