An Indian superhero film about the notion of rebirth and karma seen through the prism of science, the eternal battle between good and bad re-enacted by man's own creation, and a thematic statement about man's evil being his own hubris, is the kind of grandiose science fiction superhero film we've always wanted.
Unfortunately, RA.One is not that film.
It's unfortunate, but RA.One squanders the chance to make any sort of statement, with its use of technology a mere crutch to hold its superhero film on. The six (six!) writers credited for the film never manage to create a memorable moment that lets us ponder anything other than the ho-hum "good always wins over evil" kind of statements that even children will find monotonous.
The film starts poorly as a videogame. Someone (he isn't a programmer, he isn't a designer - he just types furiously) creates an augmented reality fighting videogame to impress his son with a cool villain. This is SRK, in an offensive portrayal of our Tamil brethren that cannot be easily topped, and with "jokes" that he should be above at this stage in his career - multiple crotch premises, keys falling in a woman's cleavage, and a series of racist Chinese digs. Poorly created characters include the son, who is a bully and a brat, and never gets any redemption.
At the launch party of the game, the character of the villain from the game, named RA.One, crosses over into our world through cell phone rays.
Think about this - cell phone and satellite signals, that work as waves (you learnt this in school), are somehow portrayed as rays. These rays can let a videogame character, which is just a series of 0s and 1s written to entertain and with no practical intelligence beyond fighting mechanics, manifest into our world. A character made of polygons (which means he is hollow beyond that which you can already see), has somehow travelled to the real world and is tangible, fully realized and knows everything about our world. Oh, and he can touch people and make them evil or die.
So you know, for a science-fiction film, the science doesn't check out.
That would have been okay, too - let's just say this is a fantasy film where such nonsense is possible. So then let's now get on to the fantastic action, the brilliant chases and some fun with videogame characters. This is where the biggest fault with the film lies. Of all the set-pieces in the film, perhaps the London chase sequence you saw teased in the trailers has some scope to it. For what they have been hyping as India's biggest film, the action set-pieces, and, worse, the imagination at work here, feel very small and uninspired.
The ultimate showdown between RA.One and the other video game character that comes to life, G.One, is probably one of the lowest points in the film. Completely lacking any danger or menace, it has the excitement of a slow-moving match of fisticuffs between two middle-aged men. Given that there is no limit to what these guys can do - from creating fireballs out of thin air to manipulating magnetic fields and even gravity, as demonstrated throughout in largely insipid sequences, just throwing punches and then firing one bullet each seems, well, anti-climactic.
The one redeeming factor here is the craft of the individuals working on the boring film's visual effects. The visual effects are indeed quite good, and though they appear a little blurry at times - this could be because of last minute rendering requests - they are meticulously created, and suitably awe-inspiring. Shame on Anubhav Sinha for not having the basic craft to frame these magnificently realized effects in any interesting way, or even applying any imagination in the context of these effects.
Shah Rukh Khan fans should be happy in any case - he is Shah Rukh Khan. At this point it is hard for him to not be absolutely magnetic in what he does, however poorly written it may be. He is the star of the show and he knows it, using his limitless energy to infuse everything with joy.
Arjun Rampal makes his appearance quite late, and while menacing, is never really given the time and scope to prove his menace. Tom Wu has a ball in the two roles he is given, completely stealing the show throughout. The rest of the cast is highly professional, though never fully realized. (Six writers!)
There have been unfair comparisons to Robot throughout the marketing of this film. The fan-created rivalry is put to rest in a small sequence in the film where we all learn the importance of Robot.
There is a different comparison to be made, however. Robot, as an example of a good science-fiction film, dealt with important themes and had major things to say. It used the best effects available to it to realize a boundless imagination and created a spectacle of breathtaking scope. For all its flaws, it is a timeless film because it gave importance to the craft of film-making above all.
Unfortunately, RA.One is not that film.