Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017)
Directed by: S.S. Rajamouli
Premise: The sequel to the 2015 film. Set in a mythical Indian kingdom, a young man (Prabhas) discovers he is the son of a prince who was murdered. The second part reveals the remainder of the father’s backstory and the son leads a rebellion against the king (Rana Daggubati).
What Works: The Baahubali series is a fantasy epic. As its subtitle indicates, this installment concludes the story that began in the 2015 movie and this is the better half. Baahubali is primarily an action spectacle and it is an impressive work of craft and showmanship worthy of comparison to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Yimou Zhang’s Curse of the Golden Flower. The film features lots of great action set pieces. They are big and outrageous but also highly stylized and retain their credibility. The special effects are considerably better in The Conclusion than they were in The Beginning and the movie is full of beautiful images; the action sequences have a ballet-like quality similar to the fights in 300 but unlike Zack Snyder’s film there is more going on in this movie underneath the spectacle. Baahubali is essentially a tall tale. The title refers to a father and his son; the father was a prince whose strength and physical prowess were akin to Hercules and he was destined for the throne but the elder Baahubali was betrayed and murdered by his cousin Bhallaladeva. In Baahubali: The Beginning the son discovered his heritage and was told the first half of his father’s story. Baahubali 2 finishes the backstory and it is the more compelling half with its romance, political intrigue, and deceit. The backstory also features a set of interesting supporting characters. By far the most engaging character of the Baahubali films (and especially of the second installment), is Kattappa, a warrior and father figure played by Sathyaraj. He is bound by a family oath to serve the royal family and the infighting strains his integrity. Also impressive is Ramya Krishnan as the Queen Mother Sivagami. She is the matriarch and surrogate mother to both the elder Baahubali and his unscrupulous cousin. Her pride and firmness are the source of her success as a leader but also the cause of her undoing and the filmmakers smartly utilize her qualities to drive the plot. The film also includes Anushka Shetty as Princess Devasena, the wife of the elder Baahubali and mother of his son, and she has a similar temperament as Sivagami. The regard for women in Baahubali 2 is another of the ways in which it is improved over its predecessor.
What Doesn’t: Baahubali 2 is not a standalone sequel. It’s the second half of a continuous story and so viewers must go into this film having seen the 2015 movie. Like its predecessor, the weakest aspect of Baahubali 2 continues to be the title characters: a father and his son both played by Prabhas. This isn’t the fault of the actor who appears to be a charismatic and capable performer. The problem is the story. The only defining traits of the father and the son is that they possess impeccable integrity and are good at everything. Neither the father nor the son have any flaws and they don’t have meaningful character arcs. As protagonists, the Baahubalis lack agency and often go in whatever direction they’ve been pushed by the supporting characters. In the first installment, the son discovered his heritage and the narrative diverged into the past. The bulk of the second movie is dedicated to finishing the backstory and when the narrative finally catches up to the present the younger Baahubali has transformed from a carefree villager and into a warrior literally in an instant. The story then gets resolved in an epic battle but the characters of the present are not so well defined and the story of the outer narrative frame is a lot less interesting than the palace intrigue of the inner narrative.
Bottom Line: Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is a terrific piece of spectacle that outdoes its predecessor in every way. The story is uneven but for most of its considerable running time the film delivers an absorbing tale that is populated by interesting supporting characters.
Episode: #646 (May 7, 2017)