Goes to the Movies

Trash Culture Goes to the Movies: Mantera (2013), a.k.a. Malaysian Iron Man

Okay, Malaysian Iron Man is my own title, and in fairness it’s more like Malaysian Iron Man By Way of The Transformers, but…whatever, let’s go with Malaysian Iron Man.  It’s better than the actual title, at any rate.

manteraironmantransformer

And again to be fair, making Iron Man a Transformer is an improvement on the concept.

Especially compared to dour cape fare like Man of Steel, there’s a wholesome innocence to the whole thing, in no small part because starting with the inevitable opening narrative crawl we learn that in this film’s universe there are two ancient global factions whose actions have shaped world history:  the Dark Legion and the Alliance of Light.  (Well, sometimes the latter gets called “the Communion”, confusingly).  Maybe it sounds less goofy in the original language, but it always cracks me up when a film that unfolds in a quasi-realistic universe has organizations with names like that.  Who shows up to the Dark Legion’s recruitment drives, especially since their leader (who we see only rarely) looks like an Emperor Palpatine who has melted even further?

Well, we do get to see one member of the Dark Legion’s management team, Mr. Western, who looks like…well…

manterravillain

Not everyone can pull off the much coveted “Cruella de Vil in man-drag” look.

Anyway, Mr.Western is the head of a corporation that shares his last name, which I can only imagine is a bit of deliciously unsubtle political commentary.  At least I think it is; the movie went ahead and triggered my English degree-derived political undertone sensing superpower when the script makes a point that the last time Mantera saved the world the Prophet Muhammad happened to be alive.

So what is Mantera?  A motorcycle that can turn into a battle mech that is both somehow being worked on by the Western corporation yet was also used as a weapon by the Alliance of Light 1,500 years ago.  All you need to know is that the Russian scientist Dr. Pushkin sabotages Western’s research on Mantera and escapes to Dubai (where she goes apparently just so the film can have some on-site shots), where she mails a prototype to a seemingly random person in Malaysia, Tomok, an avid video game player who is still in college.  Okay, it’s implied that the Alliance of Light picked out who’s “pure of heart,” but spare me that crap. Call me a cynic but I can’t have much faith in an ancient organization that feels it has to entrust a legendary powerful weapon to some college-aged gamer.

manteraleadisanerd

Don’t trust a young superhero who has Jar-Jar as the centerpiece of his “Star Wars” collection.

It’s at this point where the screenwriters really cranked up the Joseph Campbell Script Generator. The hero discovers his powers, fights the bad guys, gets horribly beaten by random thugs, is rescued by a mentor, learns martial arts, is tempted, and renounces the temptation. Cookie-cutter as it is, it’s made less appealing when the way the hero discovers Mantera’s capabilities is because he gets hit by a truck while riding his motorcycle and getting distracted checking out the Love Interest.  Also it doesn’t help that in the first action scene with Tomok as Mantera, where he’s chased by a car with armed thugs in the middle of a busy highway, he jumps off a random innocent person’s car, crushing its front and no doubt seriously injuring the passenger(s).

Okay, that’s nothing compared to the body count Supes racks up in Man of Steel, but it’s still a distractingly dickish move.

Oh, yeah, and the martial arts training he receives has no bearing on anything else he does.

manteratraining

There is something strangely reassuring about seeing even East Asian movies indulging in martial arts cliches.

At this point, the rest of the movie is given over to Dr. Pushkin getting recruited by the Legion of Light’s leader, Colonel Ayman, and somehow not being taken aback by their name.  I have to admit, I genuinely liked this part of the movie even though it barely qualified as a b-plot.  Hot young mad scientist getting together with the head of a global paramilitary organization?  Now that’s a movie I’d want to see.

manteralegionoflight

It’s kind of like SHIELD, but everything is made better with battle mechs.

Over an hour in we finally get the requisite superhero drag-out slug fest, with Mantera going up against several other Mantera prototypes controlled by Mr. Western.  Again, the Joseph Campbell Script Generation mandates that the fight goes badly until Tomok’s mentor gets killed which gives him the inner strength or whatever to kick ass. Unfortunately, my hopes that it would turn out that Mr. Western’s fur shawl would turn into a mutant monster that would join the skirmish went unfulfilled.

Even more disappointing, we suddenly get our first good look at the head of the evil Injustice Society…I mean, Dark Legion and then, we cut to credits.  That’s right.  The whole movie ends on a cliffhanger!  Look, I know nearly all superhero movies that aren’t sequels are origin stories, but you couldn’t just pull one quick resolution out there

manterarobotfight

Can’t have a mech without a mech with a sword.

To be honest, I came to this movie looking for b-movie gold and, for better or worse, there’s little to be found here.  I mean, it’s not a hidden gem that belies its 1-and-a-half-star rating on Netflix, but honestly the CGI isn’t too bad for a movie of its budget and, in spite of (or perhaps partially because of) its goofiness it manages to have its own identity, even if I do still like calling it Malaysian Iron Man.  Really, it’s not even the worse Iron Man “inspired” movie out there…

 

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