Indonesia has quietly been building its very own superhero cinematic universes over the past few years with Joko Anwar’s Gundala almost certainly the best known internationally. The Legend of Gatotkaca (Satria Dewa: Gatotkaca) is similarly intended to be the first in a new franchise, Satria Dewa, which draws influence from Indian mythology and is set in a dualistic world centuries after a battle between good and evil was ended by the gods to stop evil winning. 

Essentially an origin story for the titular hero Gatotkaca, the film follows down on his luck photographer Yuda (Rizky Nazar) who had to drop out of university because he is poor and also responsible for taking care of his mother who is suffering with memory loss and mental illness following an incident 15 years previously in which the pair were attacked by a mysterious figure in black who could shoot lasers from his fingers. Yuda assumes his memories from back then must have been a dream and that his mother’s mental distress has more to do with his father, Pande (Cecep Arif Rahman), abandoning the family. Nevertheless, he is soon dragged into intrigue when his best friend Erlangga (Jerome Kurnia) is murdered in the same way his mother was attacked during his university graduation ceremony. Determined to figure out the truth, Yuda and professor’s daughter Agni (Yasmin Napper) find their way to a secret organisation Erlangga had been a part of which aims to save the world from destructive forces carrying the Kaurava gene. 

In the film’s dualistic world view, there was once a civil war between those carrying the Pandava gene which encourages good, humanistic qualities and the Kaurava whose impulses are dark and destructive. But then as Professor Arya (Edward Akbar) who studies such things points out, Pandava can also be destructive while Kaurava are capable of using their “destructive” qualities for good. Even so, most of the bad things that have happened in the world particularly in the last 15 years since a mysterious meteorite fell to earth, can be attributed to the rising Kaurava influence from political corruption to illegal logging and even the COVID-19 pandemic. Someone is bumping off Pandava in an effort to release evil Kaurava general Aswatama (Fedi Nuril) from his imprisonment within a giant gemstone which explains the “mysterious” deaths of talented people like Olympic sportmsmen and a doctor who discovered a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Of course, Yuda turns out to be a chosen one and must pursue his destiny as the defender of the Pandava before assuming his rightful role as Gatotkaca. Only by confronting his immediate family history can he make himself whole and gain the strength to defeat Aswatama, saving the world from chaos. Meanwhile he has to contend with a romantic subplot in which Agni is aggressively courted by the odious and entitled Nathan (Axel Matthew Thomas) and his father who have at least strong Kaurava energy aside from being embodiments of oppressive elitism looking down on Yuda simply because he is poor. The underground cell Yuda eventually comes into contact with are also in their way a resistance to this same elitism, though unusually well equipped in their incredibly expensive-looking lair filled with the latest technology and looked after by a kindly Indian granny who is herself a Karauna but uses her powers, and at one point a good old-fashioned shot gun, for good.

It’s this duality to which the film eventually returns as Yuda declares they must be the light in the darkness and the darkness in the light as they secretly wage a war against an ancient evil apparently already well established in the contemporary social order. This being the first instalment in what seems to be cued up as a burgeoning franchise, there is undoubtedly a lot to take in from the talk of heirlooms and amulets to holy water and ancient weapons though the film does boast some excellent production design even if the centralisation of genetics as an indicator of good and evil is equally uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it’s a promising start to the cycle with a series of exciting action set pieces showcasing the art of silat along with some impressive CGI in the Star Wars-esque laser warfare even if it’s clear Gatotkaca’s toughest battles are yet to come.

Legend of Gatotkaca streams in the US via Hi-YAH! from 17th February and will be released on Digital, blu-ray, and DVD on March 21 courtesy of Well Go USA.

International trailer (English subtitles)

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