Gundala (2019)

Based on Indonesian comics from the 1970s, Gundala is the story of how a kid named Sancaka learns to wield his mysterious lightning-based powers and becomes a costume-clad superhero…

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Oh, how to begin…

Caveats first, I guess: This movie was based on comics that I never heard of before and know nothing about. I watched this because a friend showed me the trailer and it seemed interesting so we went to catch it on its limited run here. So there are most likely nuances or elements that are significant to Indonesia that totally went over my head and influenced my opinion of the movie. (But it has to be noted that I went into Captain America almost equally unknowing and unaware of the details… Yet I loved that movie on first watch.)

The Good

  • The visual effects were generally rendered better than I expected.
  • The first martial arts-type fight scene in the movie – between Sancaka’s temporary street kid mentor, Awang, and a bunch of hooligans – was surprisingly good. Convincingly performed, shot, and edited.

The Bad

  • The story really needed better editing. It was far too long. The part about Sancaka’s childhood – which made up almost the first third of the movie – could have been dropped completely and wouldn’t have affected the rest of the story much. Almost nothing that happened in the beginning had significant bearing on the rest of the story.
    It was also far too convoluted. The main villain is Pengkor… Or is he?? In the last twenty minutes or so suddenly a new one – some old mythic guy that another character resurrects from the dead – appears, and he’s clearly supposed to be the big bad of the next movie. That makes it seem as though the real brains of the operation was not Pengkor, but the dude that resurrected the old guy. But the main plot of the movie has to do with Pengkor. So what’s the point of bringing in the new baddie now?
  • Too many plot threads were introduced and then left hanging or cut off abruptly. It makes one wonder whether the movie was originally 3 hours long and they were obliged to cut it down to 2 hours.
  • The movie reminded me far, far too much of DC’s attempts at building its own cinematic series, and you could see the Marvel influences here and there – not in a good way.
    The opening credits had images of the comic book characters flashing by, reminiscent of Marvel’s opening logo. The character designs themselves seemed painfully similar to Marvel/DC characters. Sancaka’s costume feels like a mixture of the Flash and Thor. There was even a random superpowered lady who appeared for all of two scenes (maybe a total of thirty seconds) at the end – that was very Wonder Woman in Batman vs Superman. But worse. At least Diana Prince had more to do in BvS.
    Gundala unfortunately resembles DC’s Batman vs Superman and Justice League in how it is clearly setting up its own cinematic universe (the producers make no secret of that) and wants or expects the audience to be interested in the characters almost on sight. Perhaps this works better with the fans ofthe comics but it falls completely flat for the average viewer like me who has no prior investment in the stories or characters.
  • Sancaka himself was not an interesting lead character.
    We are supposed to see him as a guy who wants to help others but reluctantly does not do so because he was taught to mind his own business and keep to himself. But he’s far too quiet and passive… Until he suddenly isn’t. What triggers the change? Apparently something his older colleague (hello, new mentor) says something that inspires him to care instead of minding his own business. As we don’t see much of his relationship with this older fellow before that, it almost doesn’t make sense why he would suddenly take his words that seriously. It isn’t an unmotivated change, but the motivation feels weak.
    It felt like he was supposed to be a blend of Steve Rogers’ good heart, Tony Stark’s aptitude for tech and (initial) apathy, with Thor-like powers. Yet it amounted to a character that was less than the sum of his parts..? He was bland and almost devoid of personality. And even after the movie, none of us (not me, nor Sean, nor Abby) could explain what Sancaka’s powers were or how they worked. “It has something to do with lightning” was the best summary I can manage.
  • None of the secondary characters were interesting. This drags the story down further because it’s so hard to care about anyone. No Loki here, or even Pepper Potts.
  • After the first fight scene, every other fight was uninteresting. There was a lot of wasted potential. *shakes head sadly*
  • I hated the handheld camera shots, and there were a lot of them. Every fight scene was shot that way and it was excessive. It has been a long time since I actually got a headache watching a movie. Gundala gave me one. It got so bad that I ended up barely watching the last few fight scenes; I’d close my eyes after a few shots and just listen to the yelling and the sound effects.

The Random

  • I bet Awang is coming back in future movies. He’ll probably be like Bucky/Winter Soldier – suddenly he’ll be the bad guy and Sancaka will have to fight him. hahaha
  • Every time Pengkor’s name was mentioned I thought of apples. “Pengkor” just sounded a shade too close to the Cantonese word for apple: “pengguo”
  • I’m curious as to how many of the scenes in the movie were “iconic” scenes from the comics that were considered things that must be included in a cinematic adaptation of the story.

Got anything to add or say? :D