Originally scheduled for last August but delayed a full year, the long-in-the-making Air Force The Movie: Selagi Bernyawa (it was reportedly in development back in 2018) has finally seen the light of day.
Co-directed by Zulkarnain Azhar (2017’s J Revolusi) and Frank See, the movie follows Captain Adib (Nas-T) and Major Adnan (Dato’ Adi Putra) who both led the PASKAU team on a humanitarian mission in the war-torn (fictional) Namburi. While on their way home, their plane is shot down by the Namburi militants. Only a few of them manage to survive the crash.
Back home, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (or Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia) received the news about the plane crash and subsequently enlisted Zafran (Aiman Hakim Ridza), a SUKHOI pilot to lead the rescue mission. Zafran also happens to be Adib’s brother-in-law and they used to be childhood friends.
Air Force The Movie: Selagi Bernyawa wastes no time jumping straight into action right from the get-go. The movie is fast-paced enough with lots of action to occupy its 103-minute running time. Speaking of action, the movie does a decent job staging the aerial sequences involving the fighter jet and its reasonably thrilling dogfight moment. Excluding a few too-impossible-to-ignore and spotty CGI, particularly the mid-air explosion scenes, the aforementioned set pieces still benefit from dynamic perspectives of camera placements.
Whereas the aerial sequences are the highlight here, the movie actually focuses more on the ground attack involving the PASKAU team and the rest of the survivors (among them includes Sara Ali as journalist Natrah and Iman Corinne as humanitarian doctor Susan). This is where the overreliance on jittery, nausea-inducing camerawork (read: shaky cam) seemingly wanted to so-called heighten the tension rear its ugly head. It makes the combat sequences look like an incoherent mess that it’s difficult to neither appreciate nor enjoy the action choreography. And it gets worse during an extended scene set in a dimly-lit tunnel.
I hate to say this as Zulkarnain Azhar and Frank See, who also co-wrote the screenplay with additional inputs from Peter Toyat and Opie Harris, stumble in establishing both story and character development. The movie may have included several flashbacks in an attempt to make us understand more about some of the principal characters. This is especially true with the estranged friendship between Adib and Zafran. The thing is, the whole situation feels all perfunctory and surface-level storytelling that it’s hard to care about them.
The same also goes with Dato’ Adi Putra, where his otherwise spot-on no-nonsense portrayal as Major Adnan, is largely undermined by a weak screenplay. He may have been given his own little backstory but similar to Nas-T’s Adib and Aiman Hakim Ridza’s Zafran, the movie doesn’t dig deep beyond the surface regarding his character. Johan As’ari, who previously appeared alongside Dato’ Adi Putra in the recent Mat Kilau – Kebangkitan Pahlawan, is equally wasted as Corporal “Paco” and by far, the most disappointing character of them all. Having enjoyed his performance in the past when he first had a breakout role in TV’s Juvana eleven years ago, he clearly deserved better than being relegated to such a role.
Another thing that bothers me the most is the introduction of Anas Ridzuan as Matno, who shows up as comic relief in this movie. This leads to some moments of awkwardly-misplaced humour, notably his scene with one of the PASKAU soldiers played by Luqman Hafidz as “Gaban”.
Frankly, I was hoping that Air Force The Movie: Selagi Bernyawa would have ranked alongside Adrian Teh’s Paskal: The Movie, the 2018 military actioner that made its mark as one of the highest-grossing local movies in Malaysia. That movie also happened to involve Frank See behind the cameras, who was the co-writer as well as co-producer and director of choreography. But even with the involvement of Frank See in Air Force The Movie: Selagi Bernyawa, the result is a far cry from what he successfully did in his previous movie.