Fantastic Fest 2021: Genre Fans… Henshin A Go-Go See Eric McEver’s ‘Iké Boys’! – Movie Review

Did you spend your childhood’s Friday evenings watching Godzilla or Studio Ghibli VHS tapes, only to wake and watch Power Rangers the next morning during the cartoon block? Then Eric McEver’s (read our interview with him here) directorial debut, Iké Boys, would be a slam-dunk of a recommendation for you!

Iké Boys
‘Iké Boys’ poster artwork

Synopsis for Iké Boys:

Best friends Shawn Gunderson and Vikram ‘Vik’ Kapoor escape from the drudgery of high school life in Oklahoma through their obsession with all things Japanese. When a mysterious anime film transforms them into its superhuman characters, they at first think that their wildest fantasies have come true. But when ancient monsters threaten to unleash the apocalypse on New Year’s Eve of 1999, Shawn and Vik must look to each other to become the heroes they were always meant to be. Joining their adventure is Miki, a Japanese exchange student whose determination to go on a Native American vision quest puts her on a collision course with both Shawn and Vik and their foes…and whose destiny may determine the fate of the world.

In a year where a lot of the news is depressing and many of the films seem to carry a similar undertone, it’s refreshing to see a film like Iké Boys. Shawn (Quinn Lord – read our interview with him here) and Vik (Ronak Gandhi – read our interview with him here) are two awkward teens in small town Oklahoma getting by through their friendship and love of anime, kaiju movies and tokusatsu (shows like Ultraman or Power Rangers that utilize stunts, optical tricks and heavy FX work). When they watch a mysterious bootleg DVD of a lost anime with new Japanese exchange student Miki (Christina Higa – read our interview with her here), they all start noticing new, powerful changes according to their favorite characters in the film.

Iké Boys
Some of the impressive animation made for the film within the film, ‘Go! Great Decisive Battle at the End of the Century with Rainbows’

Often, when it comes to first time feature directors, the tone of a film can be spotty and all over the place. When I started Iké Boys, I was wowed by the fun, animated sequences that seemed close to the art styles of the time period depicted, but I was concerned once I saw the change element come into play. I worried that the film would lose its lighter tone and fall into deep drama or thriller territory, a la Chronicle. There is enough drama to keep characters and audiences incentivized to continue watching, but not enough that it sinks into a zone where things get convoluted and messy. Tonally, it strikes a balance that reminded way more of Amblin Family Films of the 1990s or in a more modern reference, Into the Spider-Verse.

Like the aforementioned film, there is a loving but disconnected relationship between Shawn (Quinn Lord: Trick r Treat 2007) and his father, Wayne (Ben Browder: Farscape, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2). Both performers take care to show that it isn’t a situation of love lost but simple misunderstandings that every parent and kid go through during the teen years. Browder especially impressed me in the little moments, showing Wayne’s awkward attempts to be more a part of his kid’s life by trying to learn basic Japanese greetings—through a thick Oklahoma accent—and letting his guard down to Vik (Ronak Gandhi) later in the film.

All three of the main leads (Gandhi, Higa, Quinn) give something for audiences to latch onto. Shawn has to deal with discovering his own self confidence and staving off bullies, Vik is trying to start dating and doesn’t have much confidence of his own at first, and Miki is trying to figure out herself and the world around her through her fascination with Native American culture. In the hands of another director, that could have been a very problematic subplot, but as I found out in my interview with the director and leads, a lot of care was taken to prevent that.  Each of the three are relatable and fun to watch without ever once becoming grating.

Iké Boys is also helped by its side characters, including the already mentioned Browder, but also has Billy Zane as Newt Grafstrom, Shawn’s overbearing karate teacher with his own idea of how he should be developing into adulthood. Given the film’s lean runtime (88 minutes), he doesn’t get a lot of a personal arc. That’s left for the leads. However, Zane clearly has a fun time as an ex-military man from Oklahoma teaching karate alongside his Japanese wife. Those who have looked into martial arts in a small country town have probably met someone just like him, and Zane runs with it.

Iké Boys
Billy Zane as Newt Grafstrom, Shawn’s karate teacher

Others may think that some of the FX looks hokey at first glance, but I encourage those who would frame it that way to look at it instead through director McEver’s intent: Iké Boys is a mighty morphin’ tribute to the kaiju, tokusatsu and video games many of us love and use to inspire us to be the best selves we can be. McEver and company juggle all of it, but keep focused on delivering a fun, light-hearted adventure that can help distract and lift all of our spirits right now. Henshin a go-go see this movie when it gets a wider release!

Iké Boys premiered at Fantastic Fest 2021 on Sunday, September 26, 2021. There are currently no wide release plans announced, but keep your eyes and ears here and we will keep you updated!

About Chris Filipowicz

Born in small town Montana, Chris is a writer, artist, raccoon rehabilitator, and general supporter of disability rights and awareness. He loves film, especially horror, sci-fi, and animation; and has read comics since he was a child.

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