‘Heneral Luna’ tears down the idea of heroism

Image from Artikulo Uno

If the movie is to be believed, the titular character is reprehensible and flawed, an ill-tempered man who may have deserved his fate. Heneral Luna is not about a saint, but rather a war general with little value for human life—that is if you’re a coward or a traitor to his eyes.

An anti-hero, Antonio Luna (John Arcilla) directly taps into the viewers’ aggressive desires. The film tears down our grade school idea of heroism, from a white knight to a man-child lashing at people who disagree with him, including innocent elderly vendors. All those who fought during the Filipino-American War after all were labeled as heroes, despite the gray areas these people walked on.

The movie’s strength lies in its fantastic script, with well-researched references such as renowned painter Juan Luna’s murder of his wife and a cinematic homage to his masterpiece, Spolarium. Certainly, the filmmakers did not charge into battle without dusting off some pages of history. 

The fictional reporter Joven Hernando (Aaron Villaflor) serves as the viewers’ mirror to the world of 1899. The movie also gives a few laughs, which makes it more fun to watch. Director Jerrold Tarog's choice of film score also never fails.

But the filmmakers could have worked on the characterization of the Americans in the story. The actors portraying the Westerners deliver flat performances that add no depth to the narrative. Much like how they were written, they are not as interesting and dynamic as the Filipino characters. 

Another thing amiss is that Luna’s temper is shown only as a part of his grandiose persona. Where is this anger coming from, we are clueless after watching for nearly two hours. The movie preaches against crab mentality and paranoia among Filipino leaders during the war, but there is not enough build-up in the movie. 

What Heneral Luna tells us is he was a great tactician, but not a great leader. Judging from its totality, and contrary to the film’s premise, the movie shows that it was a Filipino who indeed caused his demise—himself.

Rating: 3.5/5

Heneral Luna opens in the Philippines on Sept. 9.  

Tip: There's a post-credit scene to a potential spin-off.