We are of the opinion that Mahesh Babu's most expensive film (said to have costed around Rs. 125 crores) freaked out some-important-body at some-unfortunate-time following which they decided that it was not prudent/viable to spend more money and more time on the film. And so we end up with an under-packaged Dassara gift.
Under-packaged because the film fails to satisfy some of the basic requirements of a Dassara release. There's not a song that will stick in your head or make you shake a leg in the next wedding you attend. There's not a punchline that fans can repeat for no reason and enjoy themselves with. There's very little of what's fondly called 'hero elevation' - for example, Mahesh Babu has no fancy theme music. This becomes all the more conspicuous due to a line in the first song which goes 'theme music akkarleni massy hero veedu' (what nonsense - does there exist such a thing as a 'theme music akkarleni mass hero'?).
And, sadly, the climax is likely to make you feel 'is that it?'. The sub-par CGI is also a culprit.
But, however under-packaged it might be, Murugadoss's thriller is nevertheless a Dassara gift. We may not be entertained by the songs but we're involved enough to wait for the song to get done and the story to begin again. We may not have a punchline to hang on to but the hero is thankfully not pouting blatant hogwash in the name of heroism. There's little hero elevation maybe, but hey, we have some serious build-up for the villain. Now, that's not just rare - it's gratifying.
So Intelligence Bureau's surveillance officer Shiva (Mahesh Babu) is a vigilante who taps into public phone calls scanning for distress and rescues the distressed. This leads him to a killer who is roughly as obsessed with sadism as Tamil cinema is obsessed with psychological disorders (both legitimate and made up). The ensuing cat-and-mouse game is written with some cleverness and social consciousness that's characteristic of Murugadoss' work.
It is precisely this cleverness and social consciousness that validates the film despite its shortcomings. Of the multiple times that the hero tackles the villain, there's one gleefully audacious stretch which involves a handful of housewives jumping gates and climbing walls. Utterly implausible as the conceit is, it's also richly satisfying to see a hero depend on ordinary people instead of the other way round.
Add to this Sreekar Prasad's capacity to find a film in footage and Santosh Sivan's ability to find a story in frames, and you'll find your ticket money's worth in there somewhere.
And it helps that Mahesh Babu can be a solid performer when his director asks for it. It's probably the first time since Arjun
(way back in 2006) that he's playing someone who's neither incredibly wealthy nor irredeemably cocky. Shiva is written as an upper middle class guy who rises to the occasion of carrying out social duty - the sort that you see in Tamil films like Thupaki, Thani Oruvan (Dhruva
in Telugu), Mudhalvan (Oke Okkadu
) etc. It's enjoyable and refreshing to see him re-negotiate the terrain that he left over a decade back in pursuit of superstardom.
The remaining performances are no great shakes, though. Rakul Preet Singh as a horny medico is pleasant to watch but worries you each time she appears because that's the cue for a song. S J Suryah plays his sadist like he's a maniac who's watched The Dark Knight
too many times. If you are not too particular about your film's psychology credentials you might still enjoy his menacing look.
Okay, now that we're kinda sorta done with discussing the movie, we feel compelled to bring up something that's been biting us since the film ended. You remember that teaser where a robotic spider crawls its way to Mahesh Babu's shoulders before he shushes it? You've seen it right? Well, that's not there in the film. No kidding. That arachnid automaton has no presence and, probably, no existence in the universe of Spyder. We have no idea how or why this happened, but if you like to speculate, you're welcome to read the first paragraph again.