2.0,   India, 2018.  Starring Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Adil Hussain. Directed by Shankar. 148 minutes. Rated MA (Strong science-fiction themes and violence)

Maybe not so much of an arresting title but an intriguing one.

A bit of background to the reviewing of this film. An Indian confrere sent an email, an alert to the release of this film in India, commenting on its science-fiction story, its interest in technology, its environmental message, writing about it in terms of Gospel messages. By providence and synchronicity, the Australian release was at the same time as the release in India, so off to see the film.

The writer-director is a celebrated Indian director, Shanker. There is some wild imagination that has gone into this film as well as an enormous budget (probably some millions of dollars just for the final credits sequences, elaborate costumes, singing and dancing).

For fans of science-fiction beyond the usual, 2.0 is well worth noting. It is set in the future – but visually it is firmly anchored in the present. Its story and its action are a challenge for the present.

An inventor (Rajinikanath) has been successful with a robot, Chitti, but it has been decommissioned by the government. In the meantime, the inventor has created another robot, an attractive female robot, Nila (Amy Jackson) who acts as his assistant. What immediately happens might send a shudder of terror down the audience spine. Crowds of people are going about their ordinary business, interacting – well, not quite interacting, all on their mobile phones. A lot of details reminding us of all the conversations and preoccupations that people have and their absolute reliance on their phones. Suddenly, all the phones are swooped out of people’s hands, drawn up into the sky like a flock of birds. And the population of the city, Chennai (this is a Tamil film), bewildered, lost, then queueing up to reclaim phones or get replacements.

There are many panicky government scenes, officials trying to deal with the situation, some exposed as exploiting corruption deals.

This is a film that runs for almost 3 hours so there is a lot of detail, colourful detail, the government calling in the inventor, his justifying his participation, his resurrecting Chitti (with something of an Elvis lookalike) and going into action.

Throughout the film there are swarms of mobile phones cavorting through the air, along the roads, destroying villains…

Americans and other international audiences will be very impressed by the special effects – and those who sit through credits remembering that in certain many of the American big-budget spectacles, there are many Indian names contributing to CGI and effects. This film certainly proves that they have great skills.

Things change for the second act, audiences reminded that a man hanged himself at the opening of the film and then flashbacks exploring who he was, his love for birds and their conservation, his denunciation of mobile phones and the effects of radiation destroying birds and creation. He is now an incarnation of vengeance, a power of evil must be combated.

So, not only does Chitti go into action (as well as experiencing some demolitions), but multiple robots are created to confront the daemonic avenger (from 2.0 to 3.0). And, smartly, some mini-Chittis.

For the fans, this is all quite absorbing – although, this may be a Tamil thing, the robot Chitti and his facial expressions are a little stupid and offputting even though he achieves his ends. (The inventor and Chitti are played by the same actor.)

So, as the 2 ½ hour mark is approaching, and we have experienced this world of plot and effects, what about the good intentions of the conservationist, what about his villainy and cruelty in getting vengeance, and what about the role of mobile phones and their indispensability? Fortunately, there is little homily at the end combining all the themes coming out on the side of right.

Here is the comment from our Indian confrere, how he has interpreted 2.0:

“The concerns of this cosmos can carry the creatures away from the Creator. But only the constant compassion of Christ can carry them closer to Him. Luke 21:34-36. 2.0 is a brand new movie of a popular Indian director Shankar. He captures the audience with his catchy message that moderate use of radiation, reduction in the number of networks and moderate use of mobile phones can lead the new generation to a constructive development. Hats off to the VFX. The three digits 2.0: starting from  2 can remind the people of the scriptural passage: "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst";  dot ( .) persuades us to keep a dot not only to radiation but also to all our negativity; and O reminds us of our constant praise and thanksgiving to the Creator for his wonderful and beautiful  creation such as birds. Therefore, let us praise God constantly and courageously like the chirping of the birds in the woods: O, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder...In solidarity pay a visit to Chevalier Bhavan bird sanctuary.”

Released November 29th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.