An impressive home-grown comic book movie.
Gundala is Indonesia (and Southeast Asia’s) first attempt at creating its own superhero film franchise akin to that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is written and directed by Joko Anwar, whom many are dubbing the ‘Kevin Feige’ of this ambitious Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (BCU).
Unbeknownst to many (even amongst hardcore comic book fans), Indonesia has been publishing its own comics since the 50s/60s. Gundala is only first of eight (8) movies planned for the BCU, and one that is not only a great beginning for the new shared universe of Indonesian superheroes but also a relatively good superhero movie in of itself.
This Country Needs A Patriot
The subheading above is the translated tagline of the movie, and that already sort of tells you what kind of superhero Gundala is. However, in reality, Gundala is a myriad of various western superheroes rolled into one, including the vigilante elements of Batman, the social justice warrior aspect of Green Arrow, the patriotism of Captain America, the powers of Black Lightning or Shazam, and the martial arts skills of Shang-Chi.
Despite that, Gundala’s origin feels unique and refreshing instead of just being a simple amalgamation of all those aforementioned heroes combined.
This is partly due to the character being a Southeast Asian in a Southeast Asian country, making this a hero different from any of the western superheroes conquering the big screen.
The movie’s first act focuses on a young Sancaka (Muzakki Ramdhan), our protagonist, as we learn about his tragic past, losing both his parents and forced to survive on his own all the while being hounded by the very society that he lives in. After a time jump, we meet the older Sancaka (Abimana Aryasatya), now working as a security guard and disillusioned by the evils of society around him.
I skip quite a lot of details to avoid spoilers, but the story of Gundala is one of tragedy and rising to fight for the little people. Although the setting is Jakarta, this is a very gritty and exaggerated version of Indonesia’s capital city, one that is more similar to the crime-infested Gotham City of DC Comics than the real-world counterpart (at least I hope so).
The movie explores complex political issues and societal ills, as well as the meaning of the adage, evil triumphs when good men do nothing. It gets pretty dark at many points throughout the movie, so don’t expect something as light-hearted as any of the MCU movies, though Joko Anwar has not forgotten to include moments of levity and comedy as well.
Of Nolan’s Batman & The Raid
Watching Gundala reminded me a lot of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises.
Joko Anwar seems to have borrowed certain elements from Nolan’s iconic Batman trilogy in terms of tone, cinematography, and choice of music.
These Nolan-esque qualities are impressive, as Gundala has nowhere near the same budget or resources as a Warner Bros. film.
The characters all serve a purpose, even the supporting ones. It’s easy to root for Aryasatya’s Gundala, and not just because of his tragic past. He makes the burden of being a hero believable. Other highlights of the movie are Malaysian actor Bront Palarae as antagonist Pengkor and Lukman Sardi as politician Ridwan Bahri.
These are multi-faceted characters with their own motivations, instead of simply one-dimensional caricatures. We even get a brief origin story to flesh out Bront Palarae’s Pengkor, who is terrifying as a Kingpin-type mob boss villain with the power of influence and manipulation above all. He makes the movie better whenever he comes on-screen.
Joko Anwar probably wanted to emulate the popular Raid films for his action choreography, with the protagonist’s heavy reliance on martial arts instead of just his superhuman abilities. However, the results leave a lot to be desired, as the action looks far slower than the lightning-fast movements seen in the Raid films. It’s commendable all the same.
It’s unfortunate then that the third act of the movie feels so rushed, that the hero suddenly forgets his martial arts skills and relies on his powers to lazily defeat the villains. This is likely due to the hectic and tight schedule that Joko Anwar had to adhere to while shooting the movie, which means that they had no time for a better climax.
This Is Only The Beginning
Joko Anwar isn’t afraid to include a smorgasbord of hidden easter eggs and references, as well as set-ups and hints for upcoming movies in the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe. Although I had almost zero knowledge of these characters going into the movie, I still found these to be exciting, though it may be a bit annoying for some who dislike these blatant teases.
Gundala is by no means a perfect movie, as it comes with its own set of flaws. However, this first entry of the BCU is a commendable effort on the folks at Bumilangit Studios. It remains to be seen if the BCU will ultimately turn out to be a success, but it’s certainly worthy of attention right now.
As an avid comic book fan myself, I’ll be watching the BCU very closely from now on, and I definitely recommend that you should too.
Who knows what the BCU could be like five or ten years from now? Its version of an Avengers-style crossover film is already planned, so fingers crossed for that.
Final Score: 70/100
We received a preview screening courtesy of TGV Cinemas Malaysia. Gundala premieres in Malaysian cinemas on 26 December 2019.