Monday 22 January 2024

Hanu-Man | review by Stephen Theaker

The first film in what is hoped to be a new superhero universe, Hanu-Man introduces us to Hanumanthu (played with a good deal of charm by Teja Sajja), a feckless young man who amuses himself with petty larceny, and feeds himself by taking the food his sister (Varalaxmi Sarathkumar) makes, and insulting her while he does it. They live in a picturesque mountain village called Anjanadri, which might be a nice place to live were it not for the village champion, who demands a tax and engages those who protest in wrestling bouts to the death.

Hanumanthu is sweet on Meenakshi (Amritha Aiyer), who has returned from the city to spend the summer. After she incurs the wrath of the village champion, skull-wearing bandits attack a coach she is on and brutally murder the other passengers. Hanumanthu, in saving her, gets himself stabbed, kicked off a cliff, and likely to drown, but a kindly god takes note of his heroism. In the water, Hanumanthu is drawn to a pearl, a magic pearl that formed around a drop of the monkey god Hanuman's blood, a pearl which will heal his wounds and grant him the strength to fight.

As long as it's sunny in Anjanadri, that is...

And as well as the local trouble, Michael (Vinay Rai), a violent superhero from the city, has become aware of Hanumanthu's powers, and is coming to take them for himself, whatever it takes.

There was a lot of potential in this film. I really wanted to like it and there were things I did like about it. Telling a rural superhero story felt quite novel, and the village was full of funny, memorable characters. I liked how the title sequence included a song that explained all the backstory, which avoided lots of exposition in the actual film. More films should do this! The ending promised an epic war of gods and demons to come (the planned 2025 release date displayed over the film's final shot), and the beginning would be hard to forget: a comics-mad kid murders his own parents, to become an orphan like Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne, as his first step toward becoming a superhero.

The premise is, basically: what if Asterix's village was ruled by murderous hooligans? And what if an evil Batman then came to steal the source of Asterix's powers? There have been plenty of evil Batman stories in the comics (my favourite is Nemesis, by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, which imagined how Commissioner Gordon would cope), but not yet in cinemas, and on paper this film should have been perfect for me. I'm not a fan of musicals, granted, but Indian films make space for the songs by making the films longer, rather than cutting down on story, and the songs in this film are few, and well-integrated, rather than pausing the action for the duration of a sing-song.

But although I quite enjoyed it, the film never really took flight. The tone wanders all over the place, which isn't uncommon in Indian films, or Western superhero films either, but it was bizarre to go from bandits slitting the throats of innocent passengers to their fight with Hanumanthu being soundtracked by a jaunty song about making mango chutney. The biggest problem is that the fights just aren't good enough. Other Indian films I've seen recently, like RRR and Leo, have set the bar high for action scenes and my hopes of seeing a similarly innovative approach to superhero action were dashed here. The fights are thoroughly pedestrian, on the level of something like Arrow's disappointing first season.

And though on the whole I liked the comics references – the villain had I think an Alex Ross painting of Superman and Batman looming in his lair! – if Michael's henchman had said "Shazam!" even one more time I might well have thrown something at the silver screen!

In short, I liked the characters and setting, but if the idea of a Hanuman-inspired superhero appeals, I'd recommend Shah Rukh Khan's extended cameo in 2022's Brahmastra Part One: Shiva instead. Stephen Theaker ***

No comments:

Post a Comment