Last week I had the opportunity to watch Joko Anwar’s latest outing and first dip onto comic book movie; Gundala. It’s a novel experience for this subcategory, although not a satisfying one.
After the peak of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe with Avengers: Endgame, the expectations for similar product is always high. As a film that have only to fill in the gap post Endgame euphoria, Gundala did well. After what Merantau (2007) did—and subconsequentially The Raid (2012, 2014)—did to the landscape of Indonesian cinematic action, Gundala carried the torch with mesmerising action set and choreography. Combined with the director’s keen sight on building suspense, the movie is a visual treat to relish upon.
But, the movie is far from perfect. As an—expectedly—long lasting franchise’s maiden voyage, this movie’s story sucked hard. Experimental as it was in the prickly market that is the Indonesian cinematics, Gundala struggles with identity; It still doesn’t know to whom does it’s presented towards to, it still doesn’t know what it wants to be now and in the long run, nor that it’s know which franchising strategy it wants to go on with. All these points I will expand henceforth along with everything that the movie is about, so yeah… Spoiler warning is in effect.
The movie started as an origin story; it tells the early life of Sancaka, the son of an idealistic working class. As Sancaka witnessed the disjust that his father faced from his employer, Sancaka had to deal with loss when the conflict between his father and his employer escalated that ultimately lead to Sancaka’s father being murdered in front of his eyes. This prompts a rather forced early awakening of Sancaka’s potential.
The following scene proceeds with an abrupt jump in the event timeline by a year. This time, Sancaka had to deal with yet another loss when his mother needed to do business and had to left Sancaka for a day. But given the deadline, Sancaka’s mother broke her promise and didn’t return. The now alone Sancaka had to learn to live on the street on his own. This—however—did not last long since at one point he aided another street kid that resulted on him being targeted by a group of rascals. This is where Sancaka met Awang.
Awang is a street dweller who’s experienced in martial arts. Awang taught Sancaka to survive on the street alone. After all he did becoming Sancaka’s mentor, Awang asked if Sancaka wants to follow him to the next city by boarding a train. Awang got in the train, but Sancaka failed to chase the train thus separating them. Sancaka had to live on his own once again, but Awang’s teaching got him further in life.
A number of years later, Sancaka matured and now works as an honest
mechanicsecurity officer on a newspaper printing company. Living on a lower part of the city makes its dark side inescapable. One day, Sancaka had to aid a neighbouring damsel named Wulan from a group of street punks who has been harrassing Wulan and her colleagues of grocery vendors at a local market. Sancaka showed “hope” towards the oppressed by fighting off the street punks and unwillingly got involved. Until ultimately the street punks had enough and burned down the market in retaliation. This got him deeper into the center vortex of the conflict and finally got him into a proper heroic awakening.
In the much higher place of the city, Ridwan Bahri—a legislative officer—is lobbying with his peers, celebrating the election of new commitee members while also initiating them to the corrupt side of the government by introducing the new members towards the story’s villain—a sketchy businessman referred as Pengkor. Idealistic as he was, the new member refused to greet Pengkor. This resulted on him being executed by Pengkor on the basis that “if a people’s representative refused to treat the common people such as him (Pengkor) with respect, then they are unfit to represent the people.”
Pengkor however, have bigger plans. A sabotage happened at the central food supply reservoir, a group of ill-intended party contaminated food supply with chemicals that later on caused mass poisoning that will affect the fetus of pregnant mothers. This lead to a crisis where Ridwan and his peers have to push a countermeasure to produce antidote against the plague. Although this too was part of Pengkor’s plan since the pharmaceutical company that produce the antidote was his. This sets up Sancaka, now as his superhero persona named Gundala, and Ridwan against Pengkor.
That is the whole summary about the movie, thus concludes the spoilery part of the review.
All the time I was watching, I keep fixed at the scale of the movie; it wanted to go big by creating a crisis that is at national scale but failed at making it feel so. The disparity between social classes depicted is also extremely imbalanced that all I saw was just the oppressed working class and the ruling higher class, making it looks like that the Bumi Langit Cinematic Universe is dystopian—which I will admit not too far from reality.
The first 30 minutes is the hardest to sit through due to how linear it is, how strict and—dare I say—forced it is; it might as well put a scrolling text telling Sancaka’s childhood and save the 30 minutes. All the key characters felt one-dimensional most of the times since all they talk mostly is the moral compass that the hero need to follow and avoid, it left no grey area that the audience can ponder on. This might be because the movie is rated PG13, which giving me the impression that this movie is intended to entrap younger audience into following for the long run, just like the first Harry Potter film did. But again, I have to say that it did not do a good job doing so since the movie is quite darkly-themed and quite bloody that it looked like it wanted to appeal to both younger and older audience, and while doing so failed at both.
And my final gripes are that how the villain is just evil so that the moral contrast is so clear that kids wont be swayed into believeing in an edgy ideology. I can confidently say that Gundala will not age well—especially against its following installments—since how straightforward it is in narratives but how matured it is in visual. I will have enjoyed it had I was a teenager, but if I were to rewatch it when I have matured, I will greatly be disappointed on how shallow it actually is. How Sancaka settled the final battle can be easily foreshadowed in his early awakening to make it a lot more natural, but didn’t. Also, from a narrative standpoint, the movie is both too hasty in setting up larger universe and struggling on juggling plot points.
To establish a betterly consistent theme, I’d suggest Bumi Langit to have a much clearer target audience on their mind. For the first few movies, please keep the conflict small but make sure it left much better impression. Not all superhero movies that deals with catasthropes are good. If it wants to keep go big every installment, it will have the problem of one-upping itself sooner than later. If you want to hurry then plan at that scale and don’t play it safe.
Dare I say, Gundala will only be remembered as “That movie that started the Bumi Langit Cinematic Universe.” At this point, I have to say I’m a bit disapppointed but I still have huge hopes for the franchise to succeed. I will be waiting for the Gundala prequel story.
P.S: Tolong baca novel online saya. :”<