Review: Don 2 – The King Is Back (2011)
Resuming in both tone and narrative from where its predecessor left off, Don 2: The King Is Back tells the immensely satisfying—and gleefully amoral—story of master criminal Don’s attempt to stay one step ahead of the cops and the entire criminal underworld, and play both parties against each other, resulting in all of them wanting him dead (even if the cops will settle for jail.) Shahrukh Khan looks to be having an indecent amount of fun in the lead, as a genuinely bad person for whom an audience cannot help but root for, in part because the character is so good at being bad, but in arguably greater part because he’s being played by one of the greatest movie stars currently breathing air.
The story is set in motion when Don, whose efforts to engage in the European drug market has led to the European drug market wanting him dead, surrenders himself to the police in Kuala Lumpur, the setting of the first film. Once in jail, he approaches Vardhaan (Boman Irani), there as a direct result of Don’s machinations, with a plan to escape, go to Europe, and steal an unimaginably vast amount of money. They then proceed with this plan.
Don 2 is a markedly simpler story than its predecessor, since this is basically the entire movie. There are none of the mind-blowing twists (of varying degrees of credibility) of Don: The Chase Begins Again, although there are surprises here. The nature of those surprises are different, though: the first was a story where one had no idea what was going to happen next or where it was going to end up, the second is a story where one is virtually certain (by virtue of there being no ambiguity about the identity of Don here, that having been resolved in the former’s final scene) where the story is going, and the surprises consist of how it gets there. To wit: we can be fairly certain that Don, being Don, is going to get away with the virtually limitless fortune by movie’s end, but we don’t know how, and with whom he intends to share said fortune (if anyone).
The picture’s success as entertainment derives in large part from Shahrukh Khan’s nonpareil charisma in the lead, but an indispensable element of what makes Don 2 work is Farhan Akhtar’s direction, which is as assured and confident as Shahrukh’s performance. The action is wildly entertaining, with a minimum of digital enhancement and trickery, and tremendous car stunts. Lest it appear that the entire show is Shahrukh, it must be said as well that Priyanka Chopra makes a wonderfully effective action heroine, reprising her role as Roma, now a full-fledged cop, and her chemistry with Shahrukh is quite high (though it pales in comparison with that which she shares with guest star Hrithik Roshan, in one of the funniest and most stylish cameos in recent memory). Boman Irani adds a certain lumbering malevolence that is quite welcome as well.
There are a handful of symptoms of slight sequelitis, one being that Don’s faithful assistant/lover is, without any explanation, played by a different actress; though they have different names and could conceivably be two different people, it reads more like Isha Kopikkar being unavailable or unwilling to return and being replaced by Lara Dutta. This is not a terribly big deal, as Lara Dutta is quite lovely and more than adequate to the occasion, but it is a hiccup in continuity. Less so is Kunal Kapoor’s Sameer, another new character with a nearly identical skill set to Arjun Rampal’s Jasjit. While it strains credibility slightly for Don to put his trust in a newcomer, it would have also strained credibility to bring back Jasjit, given the resolution of the first film, arguably more so.
Ultimately, though, Don 2: The King Is Back zooms past such isolated bits of illogic, in a very expensive convertible, driven by a smiling Shahrukh Khan. The picture is the cinematic equivalent of that car, built of only the most stylish parts, and fueled by high-octane charisma. It plays like a slightly brainier Europacorp actioner, with a dash of Hindi flavor, as opposed to the original’s feel as proportionately masala with a Hollywood/European feel. And it is certainly aptly subtitled: the king is most certainly back.