The Archies Movie Review: As a devoted reader of Archie comics, which still remains my preferred light reading choice, I was eager to see how Zoya Akhtar approached her adaptation of the globally beloved comics. Already established as a filmmaker with a distinctive identity, Akhtar's take on the stories of a typical American teenager and his group of friends promised an engaging experience. In a landscape where the Netflix series Riverdale took a wild turn, Akhtar's The Archies promised to be a refreshing return to the familiar yet simplistic territory of OG Pop Tate's. However, despite Akhtar's evident conviction stamped all over the film, The Archies fails to resonate beyond a sense of whimsicality. The Archies Premiere: Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Ranveer Singh, Katrina Kaif, and Other Celebs Grace the Grand Premiere of Zoya Akhtar’s Film.
In this cinematic rendition, Riverdale transforms into a picturesque hill station in India, originally established by a British officer and now inhabited by the Anglo-Indian community. This setting provides The Archies with the perfect backdrop to retain the OG names from the comics. Set in 1964, the film introduces us to Archie Andrews (Agastya Nanda), a regular teenage boy grappling with the confusion of life choices and romantic entanglements. Betty Cooper (Khushi Kapoor), the girl next door (like literally), harbours a deep crush on Archie, while enduring heartbreaks as he navigates through multiple flirtations. The romantic plot thickens with the return of Veronica Lodge (Suhana Khan), the privileged but kind-hearted daughter of business tycoon Hiram Lodge (Alyy Khan), who also has a fondness for Archie.
The main ensemble cast includes Reggie Mantle (Vedang Raina), the brash yet not-so-bad boy and son of the town's newspaper editor Ricky Mantle (Luke Kenny). Other significant characters are Jughead Jones (Mihir Ahuja), known for his gluttony and avoidance of women, Ethel Muggs (Aditi Saigal aka Dot.), Betty's confidante and a talented hairdresser with a crush on Jughead, and the nerdy Dilton Doiley (Yuvraj Menda), a wisdom-quote dispenser and an innovator.
Initially, the film revels in the joy of fun, dance, hormonal romances, but the return of the Lodges brings ominous news for Riverdale. Hiram Lodge plans to expand his conglomerate, threatening the town's smaller businesses. With the corrupt mayor Dawson (Vinay Pathak) on his side, Lodge eyes 'Green Park,' the heart of Riverdale, prompting Archie and his gang to fiercely resist.
Watch the Trailer of The Archies:
With The Archies, Zoya Akhtar, along with co-writers Ayesha Devitre Dhillon and Reema Kagti, attempts to balance breezy teenage romance, with well-choreographed songs, and a social commentary on the growing corporatisation of the world that predates on smaller firms (irony that this is backed by Netflix who was also accused of the same). And how young people could move mountains if they so wish to. Or in the case of this film, convince the rich brat of the tycoon to be part of their revolution so that the old man is always on the backfoot. Whatever works for the revolution, yay!
Since The Archies is set in the '60s, the film successfully captures the iconic sartorial choices of the original characters, adding a delightful old-world charm to the visuals. The Archies is a musical, so songs pop out every now and then. While some of these occurrences may come across as annoying speed-breakers, the songs are quite enjoyable to hear, with "Sunoh" played during the opening titles being a personal favourite. What's even better is the choreography and the picturization (the skate-dance routine of "Dhishoom Dhishoom" is quite commendable) that are easy highlights, aided by the unbridled enthusiasm of the young stars of the movie. The finesse of Zoya's craft does make its presence felt, like a tracking shot through a camp set up in Green Park with its many characters. Nikos Andritsakis's cinematography is noteworthy in such scenes, giving a dew-kissed sepia look through his frames.
However, beyond these aesthetic highlights, The Archies falters in character development and plot complexity. While familiar with the comics may help understand certain character quirks, this assumption that the viewer many need to have prior knowledge could leave the newcomers puzzled.
Not all characters come across as true to their comic book counterparts. Reggie's brashness and his tendency to be a prankster and a flirt are toned down, perhaps to make him more likable here. Moose Mason, who used to be the gang's dumb but scary muscles, is treated more like Riverdale's Hansaben here (with one trite repeated joke about how he doesn't understand English words). Characters like Mr Weatherbee, Miss Grundy, Cheryl Blossom and Pop Tate are present, but they simply hover around the periphery (Wonder why Chuck Clayton was avoided, was curious to find out how he would have fit in the film's Anglo-Indian aesthetics). Jughead, easily the most interesting character in the Archie comics, is simply the hero's affable friend with no arc of his own. The movie doesn't delve into why these youngsters are such close friends, except that they are friends.
Zoya occasionally tries to introduce heavy themes, such as addressing the queer identity of Dilton (while, in the comics, it was Kevin who was Archie's first groundbreaking gay character). However, it feels more like a token moment, attempting to establish how it was harder back in the '60s to come out of the closet, even to your friends, even if it would be pretty dumb of his friends not to notice his sexual identity. Well, at least it leads to a heartwarming scene between Dilton and Reggie. The Archies: Karan Johar Reviews Suhana Khan, Agastya Nanda, Khushi Kapoor-Starrer, Says ‘The New Kids on the Block Are Fantastic’.
An irritant throughout is the swift resolution of conflicts through mere conversations or a song, giving the film an overly optimistic tone. While a light-hearted comic strip may avoid delving into profound themes (even if even Archies went mature and heavy in some comic runs), cinema demands a more nuanced approach.
(SPOILERS AHEAD) The film may end with the kids keeping the vultures at bay, but, of course, we know they are just out of sight for the moment; they are never truly gone—just waiting for the next right opportunity to strike. The dialogues, often a source of strength, is more of a mixed bag here, oddly oscillating between wannabe-cool or going for the trademark Akhtarisms.
Speaking of the performances, the highlight of The Archies is, of course, the debut of Amitabh Bachchan's grandson, Sridevi's younger daughter, and Shah Rukh Khan's daughter. This in-your-face nepotism aside, the young actors are charming and bring quite a lot of energy, but they still retain a lot of rawness. Agastya has good screen presence but also maintains a monotone in his dialogue delivery. Suhana Khan is a bit too cloying in recreating Veronica Lodge's attractive vanity, but she is better in the emotional scenes, especially the sequence where she confronts her father. Khushi Kapoor is alright, saddled in a role that doesn't really bring out the fiery can-do attitude of Betty from the comics.
Among the non-starkids, Vedang Raina impresses the most as the reworked Reggie Mantle. Also, doesn't he look quite like a younger Ranveer Singh from Lootera? Mihir Ahuja, Dot., and Yuvraj Menda do well in their parts, which do get sacrificed in being fleshed out over the main love triangle. The senior cast is also quite efficient in their roles, with Alyy Khan being the standout here.
The Archies offers moments of visual delight and musical enjoyment, and satiates curiosity over its star-kids' debut, but falls short in providing depth to its characters and plot. Akhtar's finesse is evident in certain aspects, but the film's reliance on prior comic knowledge and its simplistic resolutions hinder its potential impact. Recommendation: If you really want to enjoy a breezy teen coming-of-age flick from Bollywood, do check out Friday Night Plan on the same platform where The Archies is streaming. Otherwise, it's always nice to seep in nostalgia and go back to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Ishq Vishk, Bollywood's still most enjoyable Archie-inspired films.
(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Dec 07, 2023 01:35 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website latestly.com).