Much hype has surrounded ABS-CBN’s crack at the iconic Philippine superhero Darna ever since it was announced that Jane de Leon would play the lead in 2019. In fact, it was hyped even way before that, when Erik Matti was tapped to direct it in 2014 and Liza Soberano was once attached to it.
Initially slated then as a full-length movie, production finally rolled out but alas was halted by the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t until October of 2021 when fans were given an update: the project would now be a television series.
Now, almost a decade since it was announced, Darna has finally taken flight with the airing of the pilot episode on August 15, 2022. All that waiting seemed to have whet the appetites of fans, as live YouTube streaming of episodes averaged 200,000 views and uploads reaching 2 million views. But does the new Darna live up to the hype?
Fresh start and new perspectives
On Darna’s first scene, we see Narda (played by Jane de Leon) amid rubbles in what looks to be an aftermath of an earthquake. The iconic white stone was also seen flying through the night sky and landing near where Narda lay. Narda narrates how she is reluctant to take on the mantle of becoming the next Darna, yet at this point she realizes that the world needs a hero and we see her swallowing the white stone. As Narda shouts “Darna,” we are then given an animated flashback on the origins of Darna. This is narrated to us by Ding, Narda’s brother, who was reading from a comic book drawn by their father.
This is a fresh way of introducing the audience on the origins of Darna, who is played by Iza Calzado in this ABS-CBN production. She plays Leonor Custodio, the human identity of Darna and mother to Narda and Ding. Calzado is widely praised for her role in the series, and they are all well deserved. She brings weight to the character and exudes an aura of authority.
For her part, de Leon plays a lovable, if slightly reckless and naive, Narda. I am hoping for some maturity for her arc at some point in the course of this series.
The real standout though is Joshua Garcia. He plays a police officer and Narda’s love interest. His character had a rushed introduction, but thankfully was fully realized when he was re-introduced in the second episode. Garcia portrays a believable young and idealistic police officer, and it feels like he is becoming the heart of the whole series.
All episodes were directed by Chito Roño, who will be directing episodes for the first two weeks of Darna’s run. Through Roño’s adept hands, this production of Darna has been more grounded in reality than the previous adaptations. Roño fleshes out human conflicts and provides much-needed emotional beats in a world of monsters and aliens, giving us empathy for the characters.
Stumbling out of the gates
All that being said, this Darna series seems to have mimicked the journey of its production stages. In the first week of its run, Darna has stormed out of the gates, rushed out several plot lines, stumbled, and finally regaining its footing on the fourth episode.
We were introduced to the origins of Darna, a cart vendor who knows too much, a corrupt politician, alien invaders from Marte, a flashback to Narda and Ding’s father, Narda’s love interest, the love interest’s father, our introduction to Valentina (through a couple enjoying a picnic when aliens struck and fired upon them)—all on the first episode.
Things still felt crammed on the second and third episode as the series seemingly rushes out Darna’s origins as well as the genesis of future foes, just to get them out of the way. Plot lines were so rushed that it was difficult to sympathize with Narda when (*spoiler alert*) her mother was killed by the alien invaders.
It became difficult to share Narda’s burden of guilt and remorse when her character and motivations were not given enough time to emerge. In fact, the first three episodes could have used some pauses in its beats for the audience to be able to fully empathize with the characters. Yet, we cannot fully blame the production team as one episode only runs for 30 minutes total, even though it’s an hour episode (thanks to commercials).
Thankfully the series found its footing by the fourth episode. It was here that things started to settle, and the characters’ motivations were given focus. We see a struggling Narda as she tries to become the breadwinner of the family, a police officer (Garcia) going against corrupt colleagues, Ding striving to meet the expectations of his sister. All these worked even when we are introduced to Extras, criminals displaying superhuman abilities. By the time we were given Narda’s debut as Darna in the fifth episodes, we were ready to cheer.
Regardless, the debut week of ABS-CBN’s Darna has given us reasons to be hopeful about Philippine original mythologies. I personally would love to see producers making more adaptations of beloved Filipino icons in the future. For now, Darna is here. And she is a beacon of hope for Filipinos looking for one during these trying times.