“MY HERO ACADEMIA: HEROES RISING”
A popular manga series gets a worthy film installment with “My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising,” an exhilarating animation that frames heroism as an act of community. In it, superpowered teenagers train to become professional heroes, then find themselves tested by the emergence of real villains. When they’re charged with defending a peaceful village, they become a team, sacrificing their individual dreams of glory for the greater good — as if “Seven Samurai” had gotten a pastel and playful transformation.
Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, the movie follows Midoriya (who goes by the nickname Deku and is voiced by Daiki Yamashita), a bright-eyed, green-haired student of U.A. High School, where aspiring heroes are trained. Though he has been gifted with a much-admired super ability — aptly called the power of One for All — Deku is gentle. He’s driven by his love for the people he aspires to protect, a quality that makes him a sharp contrast with his egotistic rival, Bakugo (Nobuhiko Okamoto). But when villains appear, Deku and Bakugo band together with their classmates to fight forces they don’t know if they can defeat alone.
The tenderness of Deku adds to the film’s often surprising emotional potency. But the visual style of the movie also works in service of feeling. At first the film employs bold, playful character design, delighting in images like a hero whose arms have eyeballs keeping watch on lifeguard duty. But as the challenges escalate, the design of the film becomes abstracted. Fights rage in almost Wassily Kandinsky-esque flurries of light and color; time stretches for the length of a single kick to encompass elegiac pop ballads. This is canny, passionate filmmaking, a reminder of the power of two-dimensional animation. First, it humanizes, then it astounds.