Anyone who sat through the recent adaptation of Archie Comics by The CW, complete with serial killers and the epic highs and lows of high school football, would approach any future live-action adaptation of the beloved comics with trepidation. It’s not a bias against anyone involved in the making of the film or just trolls being trolls, it’s a basic human survival instinct. So despite my excitement at seeing a new Zoya Akhtar movie, I was hesitant. The comics still hold a special place in my heart and remain a comfort read when I feel blue and The Archies seemed too good to be true.
Does Zoya Akhtar override the mountain of preconceived notions people (me) had before even watching the movie?
Well, yes and no.
First, the good. To her credit, the director’s love for the source material is immediately apparent through her vision for the movie. Riverdale is straight out of the comics we all loved while growing up. You’re lulled into letting your walls down and accepting her vision of this fictional town in the 1960s where an entire community of patriotic Anglo-Indians reside in pastel harmony.
The story follows Archie (Agastya Nanda) and his gang, comprising Betty (Khushi Kapoor), Jughead (Mihir Ahuja), Reggie (Vedang Raina), and the spoilt heiress with a heart of gold Veronica (Suhana Khan). The teenagers are finding their place in the world, making their peace with ambitions and heartbreaks, when their world is shaken to the core by the announcement that the big bad corporations are making their way to their picture-perfect town and planning to demolish a park that holds special meaning in all their lives. This is enough to radicalise them (there’s a song admonishing Archie for being apolitical, so you know they mean business) and mobilise the kids into coming together to save their town.
I can easily imagine this being a storyline straight out of an Archie Comics edition I picked at the railway station on my way to my grandparents’ house during one of the many school vacations of the good old days, and this is one of the strongest parts about Akhtar’s adaptation. Her vision.
It’s there in the beautiful sets, the covetable vintage costumes, and the many side characters that inform the story. But, there are a few kinks in the story.
Unfortunately, the narrative feels disjointed and makes it hard to remain invested in the story, especially when it transitions abruptly from a potentially emotional moment of a heartfelt confession to a scene involving the subplot of another character altogether. And Akhtar’s hamartia of ‘tell, not show’ doesn’t help.
Now, we know that the director has a knack for handling an ensemble cast of characters, as we’ve seen with her previous offerings like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) or Made In Heaven (2019-present). Her characters, however exaggerated, feel rooted in reality and you understand their motivations because the emotions are universal. But, here, it feels like the baggage of character traits associated with these well-established characters of pop culture weighs the movie down. Even though there are a few exemptions to this, for instance, Dilton Doiley (Yuvraj Menda) is a delight to watch and so is Ethel Muggs (Aditi Dot).
Anyone familiar with the comics knows that one of the most prominent themes in the source material is the love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica. Archie’s repeatedly shoddy treatment of lovesick Betty and the constant strife between Betty and Veronica, with Archie in the middle, haven’t aged well. Perhaps it’s because of this that the romantic subplot between the three feels half-hearted until it reaches a satisfying conclusion (no spoilers!) But it’s too little too late.
The movie does have its moments though—a tender moment following a Truth-or-Dare-game-gone-wrong deserves a shout-out—but it doesn’t leave a lasting impact. It also allowed my mind to wander constantly to the fact that Agastya Nanda looks too much like a young Abhishek Bachchan (not surprising, given that he is his nephew) and that Vedang Raina looks like Ranveer Singh if viewed from a certain angle. But, will I recommend that people log in to their Netflix accounts and watch the movie this weekend? Absolutely. The world is on fire right now and watching beautiful people dancing around in beautiful clothes is exactly what we all need.
Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies is streaming on Netflix from December 7, 2023.