Contemporary Review / Review

Phantom Boy

by Brett Rogalskyphantom-boy1Phantom Boy, the newest low-budget animated adventure from French directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, tells the story of a young, cancer-stricken boy named Leo who discovers he has the ability to leave his body and fly around whenever he closes his eyes. He uses this ability to help an injured police officer named Alex stop the most feared criminal in the city, “The Face.” This is a fantastic premise, but Phantom Boy falls flat for a variety of reasons.

To take a step back for a moment, I think it’s worthwhile to briefly discuss the film’s eye-catching poster. Showing Leo in his phantom form, but glowing bright blue, the simple but electric image draws you in. I bring this up because this aesthetic is completely underutilized in the film itself. Most of the time that Leo flies around, he is not this neon blue ghost, but instead, a desaturated yellow version of his normal self. The few moments in the film where Leo takes on the neon blue form (which happens when he spends too much time away from his physical body) are gorgeous and engaging, but this rarely happens.

The rest of the animation is similarly drab and boring, all blending together. The colors don’t pop, the buildings are topsy turvy in a way that is more awkward than fun and the film has a tough time showing image depth. In more than a few instances, one can see floors that don’t look flat, but rather somehow completely upright. The characters look like simplistic depictions of people, with nothing distinguishable about any of them outside of the main villain, whose face is mutated and painted five different colors. Movements aren’t fluid, and these movements give the impression the animation is unpolished and seemingly rushed. While the film doesn’t aim for realism by any means, the animation is too roughly rendered to strike me as anything special.

It’s hard to figure out who this movie is intended for. There are many childish elements, such as over-the-top villains that make bad jokes and a dog that constantly bears the brunt of (surprisingly brutal) violence. At the same time, there are many adult elements, like a scene in which Leo (who is maybe 10 years old) stumbles into a strip club, as well as a few moments of Leo’s parents struggling to emotionally cope while their son endures cancer treatments. Either way, I can’t imagine either adults or kids fully enjoying the film, as there is a consistent divide of content throughout.

The film’s premise is great on its face. The problem is, the crime that Leo is trying to help Alex solve plays out like a clichéd “take over the world” plot. The main villain wants to release a virus in New York City, and it’s up to the team of Leo, Alex and Alex’s reporter love interest, Mary, to save the day. There are a slew of predictable twists throughout, and the film ends on one of them.

There are a few odd discrepancies in the script as well. For example, Alex is an incredible police officer. At the beginning of the film he is able to stop two heavily armed thieves from robbing a grocery store, and Alex stops them by using only a tomato. He saves a few lives and manages to escape from the building before it explodes (from a freak accident that was only partially his fault). But for some reason, the police chief absolutely hates Alex. When Alex is the only person in the entire city to see “The Face” after stumbling across him early on in the film, the police chief refuses to even listen to the tip Alex tries to give him. It’s an illogical part of the police chief’s character that needlessly obstructs our protagonist.

The weakest point in the film is the villain, without a doubt. Everyone in the city is supposed to fear “The Face” after he kills the electricity in all of New York. However, the city is able to recover the power in perhaps five minutes. “The Face” monologues to everyone he meets in typical comic book villain fashion, and he has two of the dumbest henchman I have ever seen in a movie. The pair cannot figure out how to hang a black sheet behind their boss when he needs to shoot a video or how to properly work a video camera. Together, the three pose no significant threat to the city, yet the entire police force is fixated on bringing them to justice.

Between the lacking visuals and the inconsistent, bland story, Phantom Boy is sadly not the gem that the premise and poster suggest. I can’t recommend that anyone rush out to the theater for this — only view it on demand if you have nothing else to watch or just want something on in the background.

1 out of 5 stars

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