Monday, March 20, 2023

The Legend of Gatotkaca

This is the first cinematic foray into the Indonesian “Satria Dewa” superhero universe—and probably the perfect time for it, considering how stale the Marvel and DC franchises are getting. At least this is something different, inspired the Mahabharata, albeit in a very modernized kind of way. Our hero still fights the Kaurava, but now they are more like an evil, genetic secret society in Hanung Bramantyo’s The Legend of Gatotkaca, which releases tomorrow on DVD.

Yuda’s mother Arimbi barely saved her son from a sinister supervillain, but the battle cost her memory. Since his teen years, Yuda has cared for her, dropping out of school to earn money. He therefore hoped to at least vicariously enjoy his well-heeled friend Erlangga’s graduation, but instead the valedictorian is mysteriously murdered on-stage.

Many of Jakarta’s best and brightest have recently fallen victim to a serial killer, who has the cops baffled. Of course, it is not really a mortal agent doing the killing. It is the Kaurava secret society, especially Beceng, their chief costumed assassin, who is knocking off those who carry the rival Pandava gene. Beceng also killed the father and brother of Dananjaya, who is sort of like the Hawkeye of the Satria Dewa universe. As Yuda starts asking questions, he meets the small band of Pandava resistance against the Kaurava cabal, led by Dananjaya.

Yuda also forges and alliance and perhaps something more with Agni, the daughter of Erlangga’s professor. With all their help, Yuda will unlock the secret of his mother’s mysterious heirloom, which holds the power of Gatotkaca, but he still has a lot of butt-kickings in-store for himself, at the hands of Beceng and the Kaurava.

Or something like that. Bramantyo and co-writer Rahabi Mandra lean into the series lore, presumably to please pre-existing franchise fans, but they often leave newcomers a bit confused. Regardless, if you consider the film a Sanskrit fusion of
The X-Men and Underworld, you might generally get the idea. In fact, many of the Javanese elements make a refreshing change from the vanilla superhero movies Marvel and DC have been churning out (more Ant-Man and Shazam movies, really?).

The action is also pretty intense. Let’s put it this way, Yayan Ruhian (“Mad Dog” from
The Raid) plays Beceng—and he hasn’t lost a single step. He definitely delivers in the fight scenes, making a spectacularly nasty bad guy.

As Yuda/Gatotkaca, Rizky Nazar is suitably grounded, in a nebbish Peter Parker kind of way. He has appealing rapport with Yasmin Napper, as Agni, and Jerome Kurnia, as Erlangga, which helps lay a solid foundation for the superhero drama. Sigi Wimala is also terrific as his tragic mother, Arimbi. However, Dananjaya and his crew are not as well-established, perhaps because Bramantyo assumes audiences are already familiar with them.

Although Yuda’s story is reasonably familiar and straightforward, there is a lot worldbuilding crammed into film’s margins and corners. Frankly, it might have better realized all the interconnected pieces in a multi-part series rather than a film. Regardless, it is still a lot of fun to see new superheroes, especially when they are not subjected woke studio re-writes and sanitized for the Mainland China market. This is a very Indonesian film, which makes it cool. Recommended for fans of martial arts-influenced superhero movies,
The Legend of Gatotkaca releases tomorrow (3/21) on DVD and BluRay.