Being a superhero isn’t easy. As the saying with “great power” goes, Gundala is a colossal movie by Indonesian cinema standards, but with it also comes great responsibilities.
First, Gundala needs to act as an origin story for mostly-forgotten characters to introduce them to a whole new generation. Adapted from the comics first created by Harya Suraminata in 1969, the hero has seen attempts at revivals over the years but has yet to hit big again in the mainstream. Second, entertainment company Bumilangit, along with Screenplay Films recently unveiled plans for their own cinematic universe of superhero movies, of which Gundala is the first. It needs to build a world for those heroes to live in, and an audience for them as well. Finally, Gundala needs to stand on its own merit as a movie. But with all of that pressure, can he?
Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on Gundala’s shoulders on his first outing. So it might be forgiven if he stumbles a bit.
For the most part, Gundala manages to do some heavy lifting. Director Joko Anwar blends together heightened realism, social commentary, and beautiful cinematography for a superhero origin story that will feel relevant to Indonesian audiences. Anwar’s gritty vision of Indonesia looks like it came out of a comic book, yet feels familiar: its kampungs are dusty & bleak while its cities are harsh & decrepit. Technology looks as if it was held back by a few decades. While mobile phones exist, they’re only seen in the hands of the rich. Does the setting successfully paint a picture of a nation stuck in the past, riddled with problems so great that it can’t advance unless a hero comes along to save it? Maybe. At the very least, it looks great on screen.
Gundala also finds steady footing in its solid cast. Bront Palarae particularly stands out as the villainous Pengkor, delivering his dialogue with the gravitas befitting a true supervillain without ever being one-dimensional. Other notable roles include Muzakki Ramdhan & Faris Fadjar as young Sancaka & Awang respectively. While clearly following in the footsteps of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Gundala manages to shake off its genre trappings to tell a fresh story full of characters who are undoubtedly Indonesian.
That is until the latter half of the movie, where it’s as if all of it is thrown from up off the roof (Sometimes literally). New plot points and themes are introduced with lightning-speed, some of them never to be picked up again. Some stand in direct contrast with the movie’s earlier approach to tight, realistic storytelling which results in a jarring third act. The cinematography also suffers, as the film’s climactic fight scene feels like it was rushed through production. It’s unfortunate, as the finale marred what would otherwise have been a solid classic in the superhero genre.
Still, Gundala shows promise as the first step into a new world of Indonesian superheroes, even as it stumbles along the way. It will need to learn from its shortcomings if it hopes that lightning will strike twice for the Bumilangit cinematic universe.
The Indonesian Anime Times | by Caesar E.S.