Pathaan Synopsis: Pathaan, an Indian spy, takes on the leader of a mercenary group with nefarious plans to target his homeland with a deadly pathogen.
Super spy Pathaan confronts his biggest test yet when he faces off against Jim - a former operative turned rogue terrorist - who looks to eradicate the world in Pathaan.
Hollywood action films are currently stuck in a stale no man's land. While the dynamic killing sprees of John Wick and Gerald Butler's refreshing 80s throwbacks deliver some excitement, the genre is still a far cry away from its iconic heyday. Most actioners that remain embrace the same tired aesthetics, recycling a well-trudged formula that shows a desperate need for new infusions.
Fortunately, the international action film scene continues to pick up the slack. Novel success stories like The Raid: Redemption, The Night Comes For Us, and 2022's breakout RRR showcase trailblazing efforts crafted with remarkable verve and creativity. The latest Indian actioner to arrive stateside, Pathaan, continues the innovative trend in its own remarkably assured voice. Director Siddharth Anand and his creative company conjure a globetrotting spectacle bursting with crowd-pleasing allures.
Anand's fearless craftsmanship behind the camera is an exhilarating jolt of electricity for the genre. The director never lets his budgetary restrictions limit his imagination (the cost here is roughly $27 million, which is considered inexpensive for most action efforts). Instead, he deftly understands cinema as a visceral medium, drawing an evocative world full of enthralling vistas and lavish outfits. There's a captivating momentum to Anand's bold visual style that's consistently intoxicating to get lost in. I also admire his ability to elevate seemingly ordinary plot beats into compelling moments, such as an expressive moment of romantic courtship serenaded by provocative and uptempo house music.
When it comes to the action scenes, Pathaan swings for the fences in its numerous high-wire setpieces. The sheer inventiveness behind each pulsating sequence's choreography and staging elicited wide-eyed wonderment from me. Whether Pathaan is swaying from one tightrope to another amidst a towering skyscraper or engaged in a daring motorcycle chase across snow-covered mountains, the action here draws breathtaking thrills that few contemporary actioners can match. Additionally, Anand imbues remarkable precision in bringing these beats to life. His steady camerawork benefits from deft inclusions of slow-motion and other stylistic techniques. Thankfully, his stylistic touch always enhances the action's infectious mania.
On a narrative front, Pathaan spotlights some alluring strengths. Anand and co-screenwriter Shridhar Raghavan enhance several familiar narrative tenants through their articulate lens. Numerous action movies touch upon blinding nationalism and bureaucracy discarding soldiers as disposable remnants, but Pathaan utilizes both conceits to tell a story of one man rising above politicization to fight for humanity's best interests. Of course, it helps that star Shah Rukh Khan makes for a charismatic leading man. His debonair swagger and dramatic gravitas mold Pathaan into a transfixing protagonist, while John Abraham injects sinister menace into his rival Jim.
Other elements of Pathaan's screenplay do exhibit some shagginess. The film can stumble into its fair share of hokey moments as didactic dialogue exchanges stiffly explain some of the film's intriguing nuances. Additionally, I don't think the movie warrants its bloated 146-minute runtime. There are a few narrative threads that end up feeling completely superfluous in the grand scheme of the narrative's true objectives.
I was still enamored by Pathaan and the imaginative reckless abandon it brings to the action film formula. I hope western audiences continue to embrace international actioners and the fresh perspective they bring to the genre.
Pathaan is now playing in theaters.