Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Dhoom: 3

Funny (ish) story: When Dhoom: 2 came out back in 2006, I was actually a little curious because of that cast; I knew Hrithik Roshan from Koi... Mil Gaya and Krrish and Aishwarya Rai from Bride & Prejudice (as well as being famously beautiful), but I sort of figured that, as a sequel to something I haven't seen that was already outside my cultural comfort zone, the movie would be all but incomprehensible to me.

The funny bit is not just how I've obviously become rather more comfortable with Bollywood over the last year or so, but that if the second movie is anything like the third, then this is likely one of the most new-viewer friendly franchisees of all time, and the way it goes about being that way is kind of brilliant: At least in Dhoom: 3, the characters that carry on from the previous movies are rather secondary to the new guy who serves as the villain.

I get into why this is brilliant a bit more in my review, but think about it - the bad guy is the one who is going to have any sort of story arc in an action-movie sequel. After all, in most of these series, any point about the protagonist is going to be made in the first, and later ones are either reiterating this, undoing it, or going with the more likable person the character has grown into by the end of the first. Consider what happened with Mel Gibson's character by the time Lethal Weapon 4 came around; all the edge and danger from the first one were gone. Or how John McClane lost more and more of what made him a great everyman hero as the Die Hard series went on. Now, I'm not saying this doesn't happen with Dhoom - for all I know, Jai and Ali are characters who grow in interesting ways in the first - but the point is sort of that it doesn't matter: You need them for it to feel like a Dhoom movie, but the plot revolves around their antagonist(s), which means there's still a story without mucking up what came before, and it an go anywhere because the main character doesn't need to be preserved for the sequels. Heck, for all I know, you can probably interest top actors in this sort of villain role more easily because they've got a chance to do something interesting.

This is something The Dark Knight, and for that matter Batman Returns, did to great effect), and superhero movies may be the safest place to try it in America, with ready-made great villains all set to be plugged in. Those still rest fairly heavily on the stars, though. It does make me wonder a bit if a franchise like this could be created deliberately over here - would the stars balk over bigger names being brought in and almost certainly overshadowing them in the sequel, even if it's structurally the right call? Or would producers be too tempted to find a way to bring back the strong villain from the first rather than replace him? That's happened a few times. On the other hand, would this potentially extend a franchise - if Abhishek Bachchan doesn't want to come back for Dhoom: 4, why not just give Ali another partner? Other action series might raise a stink over this, but if the entry's villain is compelling, well, why not?

This all assumes that Dhoom: 3 and its focus on Aamir Khan's character is typical of the series; I may be way off on that. But even if that's a bad assumption, I do like the way it works for this movie; it seems like the series is benefiting from the stability of a continuing series while having the satisfaction of being able to start fresh and tell a complete story every time.

Dhoom: 3

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2013 at Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, DCP)

No prior experience with Bollywood's biggest action franchise is necessary to enjoy Dhoom: 3, and that appears to be by design - the heroes carried over from the previous two installments are very much secondary to the "villain", who has been a new character and actor in each film of the series. It's not a bad formula; this movie may be a bit on the on the long and silly side at times, but it's got enough solidly entertaining pieces to fill a couple of hours, if not quite three.

The crook this time out is Sahir Khan (Aamir Khan), an acrobat and magician who has been robbing various branches of the Western Bank of Chicago and using the cash he doesn't just throw out on the street to repurchase and rebuild The Great Indian Circus, founded by his father and foreclosed upon by the head of said bank (Andrew Bicknell) twenty-odd years ago. Just as he's on the verge of reopening with himself and Hindi-American acrobat Aaliya (Katrina Kaif) as the main act, Mumbai detectives Jai Dixit (Abhishek Bachchan) and Ali Akbar Fateh Khan (Uday Chopra) are brought in to work the case, and while they and local detective Victoria (Tabrett Bethell) soon finger Sahir as the best suspect, every good magician has something up his sleeve.

Now, I will admit, the trick Sahir and writer/director Vijay Krishna Acharya have up their sleeves is not a new idea by any means, but Acharya springs it on the audience well enough at the intermission mark that the revelation is still fun, and because he and co-writer Aditya Chopra choose to do it then, they can use the way Bollywood movies tend to refocus and switch things up at that point to give Aamir Khan a somewhat wider range of things to do in the second half. He doesn't necessarily get better, per se - first-half Samir is actually a ton of fun, with a frequently-shirtless Khan pulling off just the right combination of entertaining showman and revenge-driven bastard to be a thoroughly entertaining anti-hero, and the second-half complications take away from that somewhat. Still, it's Khan's movie, and he seems to have a blast with it.

Full review at EFC.

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