Looks like Hollywood isn’t the only one that produced their own superhero cinematic universes as seen in both Marvel and DC. Now, Indonesian cinema has finally joined the bandwagon in the form of Gundala, which would mark the first movie in the BumiLangit Cinematic Universe.
Based on Harya “Hasmi” Suraminata’s 1969 comic book series of the same name, Gundala tells an origin story about a boy named Sancaka (Muzakki Ramdhan) who lost both of their parents and gradually on his own. After meeting a street kid (Fariz Fadjar’s Awang) who teaches him how to survive in the streets and the art of self-defence, the movie eventually traces from Sancaka’s difficult childhood to adulthood (now played by Abimana Aryasatya). Working as a lowly security guard in a printing factory, he tries his best keeping himself out of trouble. But he soon finds himself dealing with Pengkor (Bront Palarae), a disfigured and tyrannical gangster boss looking to poison the nation’s rice supply with a dangerous serum.
The first half of the movie is particularly impressive, as writer-director Joko Anwar does a great job establishing the younger Sancaka during his gritty childhood era. It also helps that Muzakki Ramdhan is an amazingly gifted child actor who made his Sancaka role all the more engaging and believable.
Other than Ramdhan’s scene-stealing performance earlier in the movie, Anwar also assembled a solid cast all around including Abimana Aryasatya’s grown-up role of Sancaka while Bront Palarae made quite an impression as the movie’s main antagonist, Pengkor. Tara Basro fares reasonably well in what could be a token love interest as Sancaka’s neighbour, Wulan.
Then, there’s the violent action where Anwar alongside cinematographer Ical Tanjung framed each of the setpieces in The Raid-like visceral manner. Tanjung’s atmospheric cinematography also successfully captured the dark underbelly of Jakarta while the spot-on music score — credited to Bembi Gusti, Tony Merle and Aghi Narottama — complements well with the movie’s overall grim subject matter.
And yet, Gundala feels like a missed opportunity. This is especially true during the second half of the movie, where Anwar starts to get overly ambitious for his own good with his script. He clearly wants to be more than just a straightforward superhero movie. Cramming as many plots as possible, Anwar attempts to incorporate every thought-provoking issue from oppression to corruption and even other related political underpinnings. Such an expansive narrative approach generally works better if Anwar made this into a miniseries. As a 2-hour movie, it becomes heavy-handed until it got me thinking: Isn’t Joko Anwar supposed to give us the origin superhero story of Gundala?
Which brings me another problem of this movie: the title character himself. Sure, the grown-up Sancaka eventually got his superpower and wear his deep-crimson costume, which looks like a cross of Captain America and Netflix’s Daredevil. But it’s kind of strange that Anwar isn’t really interested in fleshing out the origin parts on how and why Sancaka got struck by lightning. It’s like as if we have to accept his superpower as it is. With Sancaka’s superhero origin left largely unexplored, it’s hard to root for the main protagonist once he finally put on the costume.
Gundala also featured Pengkor’s team of orphan assassins later in the movie. It was supposedly an interesting concept with each of them possess different skills and abilities, namely Kamal Atmaja as a hypnotist and Cecep Arif Rahman of The Raid 2 fame as the traditional dancer-cum-fighter Swara Batin. Unfortunately, they are hastily introduced and if that’s not enough, the potentially memorable moments where each of them fights against Abimana Aryasatya’s Sancaka/Gundala turns out to be a shockingly limp effort. This is the only time in the otherwise mostly thrilling action choreography fails to live up to its excitement.
Despite most of the shortcomings, I still hope that the subsequent movie in the BumiLangit cinematic universe able to step up further. Do remember to stick around as Gundala contains a mid-credits scene.