Remember when Israeli actress Gal Gadot revealed that she auditioned for a role at Warner Bros. not knowing that she would eventually get hired to play Wonder Woman?
Such a development like that happened here in the Philippines as ABS-CBN formally announced on July 17 that they hired 20-year-old actress Jane de Leon as the new cinematic Darna (finally replacing Lisa Soberano) and this puts the much delayed Darna live-action movie back on track.
In an interview with Preview.ph, de Leon revealed that she went through a process that involved a public audition, a special audition for artists, the final call, the panel meeting and the big meeting with the bosses at ABS-CBN. Along the way, she remembered auditioning for a villain role and the audition involved the participation of around three hundred candidates (according to ABS-CBN’s official announcement).
In the network’s official announcement, there was the final deliberation in which the network management asked the actress how committed she is in getting the role. De Leon replied that she would “everything and anything” for it and added that she believes “in what Darna stands for.”
Olivia Lamasan, who is the ABS-CBN Films managing director, asked De Leon (translated from Tagalog): “Are you ready? Are you ready to hold the stone? Are you ready to be Darna? This is because we are giving you (the role of) Darna.”
Unsurprisingly, De Leon got shocked with getting the role. Darna, after all, is a Philippine superhero icon that started way back in the 1950s and multiple comic books, movies and TV episodes were made featuring the character. The late Mars Ravelo created Darna.
Lamasan stated to ABS-CBN News that the Darna movie is a “genesis story” (origin) with a coming-of-age theme. She added that having someone “young and with an air of innocence” as well as “strength of character.”
Personally, I am not surprised that an origin story is the concept of the still unmade movie. This is, after all, the newest version of Darna under ABS-CBN and the new actress has to not only play the icon but also make her relevant with today’s moviegoers, including the many Filipinos born just before or just after the year 2000.
Behind the scenes, experienced filmmakers were involved in the selection process and they carefully made their choices. Darna movie director Jerrold Tarog said that De Leon was their unanimous choice.
Beyond the casting for the icon, it remains to be seen what kind of quality moviegoers will get once the Darna film project finally gets made. We moviegoers have to ask: how much spectacle will the film have? Will the script have childish humor? Will the Darna costume for Jane de Leon still be the traditional 2-piece swimsuit with boots, helmet and that front loincloth? Will the movie serve as a platform for the possible launch of single, shared cinematic universe of Mars Ravelo’s superheroes?
From this point on, the producers and filmmakers should be able to move forward at last with making the Darna movie while Jane de Leon prepares herself.
Details of De Leon
A native of Laguna province, Jane de Leon stands 5’3 and is talented with acting, singing, dancing and playing drums and guitar. She also took part in modeling. With regards to movies and television, her credits include The Debutantes (2017 movie), Ipaglaban Mo (TV series), Maalaala mo kaya (TV series), and Halik (TV series).
This past summer, the production of the pending Darna movie project suffered a major setback when Liza Soberano dropped out due to a serious injury of her finger. I wrote about that months ago and the fact that Soberano cried during the ABS-CBN interview (she admitted she let the fans down) only showed how heavy and painful the loss of the Philippine pop culture icon was to her deep inside. Not only that, the original director Erik Matti is no longer involved and has since been replaced by Jerrold Tarog.
As of this writing, the filmmakers are still quietly searching for a suitable replacement for Soberano.
As the search goes on in this age of social media and Hollywood-produced superhero movies that dominated the Philippine box office, the hot question remains – is a Darna movie still needed?
To understand things better, let’s go back to the beginning.
Created by the late Mars Ravelo, Darna debuted in 1950 in illustrated print media and went on to appear in comic books, comic strips, magazine special features, television and movies to name some. Through the decades, Darna went on to become a Philippine pop culture icon and there were those who even compared her with Wonder Woman.
In Philippine cinema, Vilma Santos (who is now a public servant) made her mark with the public when she played Darna more than once. Other actresses who played the superhero in other movies were Sharon Cuneta, Anjanette Abayari and Regine Velasquez to name a few.
The 21st century
In the 21st century, Darna was unsurprisingly modernized in a TV series starring Angel Locsin and produced by GMA Network. The series became a hit nationwide and helped keep Ravelo’s icon relevant to Filipinos while also boosting Locsin’s popularity. A few years later, GMA lost Locsin to its rival network ABS-CBN and “replaced” her with then newcomer Marian Rivera who went on to become a star. While still holding the rights to Darna, GMA launched in 2009 a new series with Rivera as the superhero. Like the 2005 series before it, it became a hit as well.
While it was a success, the deal between GMA and the surviving members of Mars Ravelo came to an end. Unsurprisingly, in 2015, the Ravelos signed up with rival network ABS-CBN with upcoming Darna projects in mind. What made this new deal different was that it was in the form of a motion picture project through its movie-making arm Star Cinema.
Making a live-action Darna movie turned out to be tricky and time-consuming. In 2017, the project generated a lot of buzz and excitement when the young and pretty Liza Soberano was hired to play Ravelo’s creation. She was easily referred to as the “Millennial Darna”.
Of course, in this age of social media and smartphones, Filipinos expressed their reactions online. While there were those who welcomed Soberano as Darna, there were some who had problems with the actress’ American accent and heritage (note: Soberano was born in the United States) and some even claimed that she was “not Filipina enough” to play Darna who in the realm of fantasy is Narda, who is often portrayed as a simple Filipina.
And then there were some people who preferred Angel Locsin over Soberano. Take note that almost a decade before Soberano signed up to play Darna, Locsin was hired by ABS-CBN and starred in many big projects with the network achieving lots of success in both television and movies. As such, it was no surprise that there were still many craving for Locsin to play Darna under the banner of ABS-CBN.
Before losing the role, Liza Soberano worked really hard to play Darna. Videos and images of her physically training for the role were released online and it has been reported that she researched the icon behind the scenes. Soberano, by the way, studied at SISFU (Southville International School Affiliated with Foreign Universities) in BF International, Las Pinas City.
Do people really want to see a Darna movie at all?
While Star Cinema is slowly making the Darna movie, it is only fair to ask if people really want to see the movie at all. Do Filipinos, who collectively paid a good amount of money to enjoy Hollywood-made superhero movies in local cinemas since the year 2000, really need to watch Darna on the big screen?
Now I am not a filmmaker nor have I gotten involved in the nation’s film industry but as a long-time geek, observer and former journalist, I should say that the odds are against Star Cinema.
Traditionally here in the Philippines, local film productions that became hits were the romantic comedy and horror types of movies. There were a few historical epic films that became hits along the way. A few fantasy movies were released and made some good money. Given the fact that these kinds of films became hits with Filipino moviegoers and given the fact that the Filipino action film genre has faded away since the early 2000s (note: Filipino action movies have been rarely produced since then), it comes to show that Filipino moviegoers are not that interested in locally made action scenes.
Action scenes combined with computer-generated images (CGI) are among the most attractive features of Hollywood superhero movies to Filipinos. There is nothing like watching Spider-Man’s classic fights with Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 (2004), Wonder Woman leading the fight against the Germans in the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman (2017), Batman fighting a gang of thugs in the warehouse in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and the massive battle between the superheroes and the evil ones in plains of Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) all happen on the big screen!
Definitely those forms of spectacle look great, feel intense and were enjoyable to watch again and again. Moviegoers here in the Philippines paid good money to experience those sequences. For sure, all those on-screen action sequences were carefully crafted, choreographed and painstakingly laced with CGI at a high cost.
That being said, what can the Darna movie offer local moviegoers in terms of spectacle? Can the filmmakers come up with something stylish (if not original) with the action with Darna that can convince moviegoers to come back for more? How much money can the filmmakers afford to invest in such spectacle? For sure, there will be moviegoers who can’t help but make comparisons with Darna’s on-screen spectacle with those of movies from Marvel and DC.
There is also the challenge for the Darna filmmakers to tell a compelling story and have the moviegoers connect with the characters. Sure there is Darna (Narda is her civilian identity) but who else could they add as key cast members? The least the filmmakers could do is involve supporting characters who would end up annoying moviegoers. If the Darna movie would have humor, the producers should make sure that the comedy players should avoid annoying the viewers as they try to make comic relief.
Challenging also is the implementation of the villain to give Darna problems and compel her to act heroically. There is the long-time enemy Valentina but how can the filmmakers make her relevant and not look corny to the locally viewers who have gotten so used to villains in Hollywood superhero movies. Creating a brand new, all-original villain for Darna on the big screen could be a last resort if ever none of the Mars Ravelo-created villains would fit in. A weak cinematic villain is a big no-no.
And then there is the challenge of dramatizing and modernizing the origin of Darna on the big screen. This can make or break the movie because emphasizing the origin requires a good amount of build-up and however the story is written (with the expected big battle near the end) the movie should have balance. It is key to entertain the viewers, to connect them with the characters and make the plot relevant to them. If there is way too much build-up (read: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), moviegoers will end up getting burned out and the spectacle won’t save the movie. If the film has too much social commentary, it could turn off moviegoers.
Another issue is maintaining the relevance of Darna with the Filipinos as time passes. Each year that passes, a superhero movie of Marvel or DC Comics gets released in cinemas nationwide and adding more to the relevance of the superheroes in those movies is the presence of comic books and trade paperbacks of superheroes in retailers. I’m a comic reader and no matter how hard I try, I could not even find a Darna comic book at the retailers (including the comic book specialty stores) and not even reprints of old comics are available. As for the past TV series and movies of Darna, they can be viewed on YouTube but those productions are not too appealing to me.
Merchandise of Darna and the other Mars Ravelo heroes Lastikman and Captain Barbell are not that common commercially. The Ravelos however, in partnership with ABS-CBN, sell such merchandise (under the title Ravelo Komiks Universe) online.
During my time at the recent Toycon, there was a Ravelo Komiks Universe at the main exhibition floor which showcased statues and some merchandise of Darna, Captain Barbel and Lastikman. There were even hired models portraying the Ravelo superheroes in full costume.
One last issue to discuss here is movie competition. Hollywood superhero movies pretty much made tremendous commercial, and even social, impact here in the Philippines since the year 2000 when X-Men proved that superhero films can be taken seriously and be enjoyed for what they are. There is no denying that Marvel and DC Comics movies are major moneymakers among Filipinos. Wonder Woman grossed over P520 million nationwide in 2017. The disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse made over P400 million in 2016. Iron Man 3’s gross in 2013 was over P625 million. Lastly, Avengers: Endgame made over P1.6 billion this year!
Superhero movie competition is already tough and for sure moviegoers will compare Darna to those foreign superhero flicks on every detail. As if that was not hard enough, there is also movie competition with non-superhero flicks like Jurassic World (over P500 million) and the Star Wars movies to name a few. Some comedies and romantic comedies occasionally sell a lot. There are also those computer-generated animation films as well not to mention some Filipino movies that sometimes turn into major blockbusters.
With these issues discussed, making a Darna movie is hard to do and selling it, if ever it gets made at all, is an even bigger challenge for Star Cinema. As a movie market, the Philippines and its moviegoers have an undeniable appetite for foreign movies and if it is spectacle they crave for, they search for it from Hollywood from the superhero movies, the sci-fi movies, the hard action films, fantasy movies, etc. Adding further to the challenge of making the Darna movie succeed is the advanced publishing of schedules of releases of future movies like Wonder Woman 1984 which will be released worldwide on the first week of June 2020.
If ever the film will be made, could Star Cinema’s Darna turn out as the complete package of really special superhero fun, engaging storytelling, memorable characters and great spectacle in the near future? Will it be released during the Metro Manila Film Festival or during the January-November period? How can Star Cinema make Darna relevant to young moviegoers, geeks and the many Filipinos who love watching Hollywood superhero movies?
The answers should unravel in the near future. There is, however, the possibility that the Darna movie would end up getting cancelled. Personally, I would not be surprised if that happens.
Don’t get me wrong. While I am not a fan of Darna, I still am interested to see a modern day film adaptation of Mars Ravelo’s superhero and hope it will happen with an engaging story, characters worth connecting with and carry lots of entertainment value. While I enjoy watching Hollywood superhero movies, I still will give the Darna movie a chance if it ever gets made as a solid film.
How about you, readers? Do you want to see a Darna film on the big screen?
It’s all over the news here in the Philippines. Actress Liza Soberano will no longer be playing Philippine pop culture icon Darna as she withdrew herself from the long-delayed movie superhero movie project. The network ABS-CBN (which controls movie company Star Cinema) confirmed the withdrawal.
“I have decided to withdraw from the project of Darna,” Soberano said in an interview.
It is no secret that the Philippines is a hot market of moviegoers who pay a lot of money to enjoy the latest superhero movies from Hollywood and so far Philippines-made superhero productions just cannot keep up with those foreign productions in terms of quality and entertainment value. This is why local production companies prefer to play it safe by making superhero (or superhero-inspired) productions in the form of TV series or anything that has nothing to do with movies.
But then, as I observed, the years passed by and there were very few updates of the Darna movie project made. Today’s news of Soberano’s withdrawal from the project is not only the latest development, it is also the saddest not just for Darna fans but for the actress herself.
During her interview, Soberano revealed that she had injured her finger (finger bones got crushed) due to an incident and as a result she went back and forth to medical professionals to fix her problem. She even had surgery twice and due to the lack of a breakthrough, she decided to back out from Darna as her injury would have hindered her from doing stunts properly. As she kept on doing physical training subsequently, she noticed limited motions with her hand and her grip was nowhere as good as it was before.
Soberano confirmed that already she and the film crew shot some scenes with her playing Narda, the alter ego of Darna. Those scenes were shot when Erik Matti was still the director. Due to reported creative differences, Matti left the project on October 2018 which was quite a blow to the already troubled Darna movie project. On November 2018, the film went through creative revisions with new director Jerrold Tarog on board. Clearly the Darna woes were not limited to Soberano.
Letting go of the Darna role was very painful for Soberano and she knew a lot of fans were looking up to her and the dream project. You can how painful it is to her during the last 21 seconds of the video interview below.
Still there are lots of unanswered questions about the Darna movie. While it is still an active project, how much money was spent during the time Soberano worked on it? How much footage was filmed already? What special effects experts have they hired to ensure the movie would be spectacular? Will the movie be a superhero origin story? Will the Darna movie be an official entry in a future edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival? What can the Darna movie offer Filipino moviegoers who have already been entertained with movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Cinematic Universe?
With Soberano gone, the future of the Darna movie – as well as the future of Philippine-made superhero movies in general – remains very uncertain.
The latest Darna news is quite saddening for the people anticipating it but actress Liza Soberano achieved something big that had NOTHING to do with the Philippine superhero – achieving box office success with Alone/Together which grossed a few hundred million pesos in ticket sales as of March.