Darna! Ang Pagbabalik (Philippines 1994)

Rating: *
Alternate Title: Darna: The Return
Review Date: 8/28/21
Cast: Anjanette Abayari, Cherie Gil

Darna is a popular Filipino superhero that was created in the 1950s by Mars Ravelo. She has superhuman strength, destructive laser beam eyes, and can fly. Similar to DC's Wonder Woman, she wears a skimpy and sexy outfit, and can deflect bullets with her golden bracelets. Her alter ego is a woman named Narda, who can transform into Darna by swallowing a magic stone and shouting "Darna!" In this adventure, Narda's village is destroyed and her magic stone is stolen, which leaves her powerless and with amnesia for the first half of the film. Her family ends up as refugees in Manila, where a suspicious priestess named Valentine (Cherie Gil) is brainwashing people to join her snake cult in preparation for the end of the world. Narda's little brother Ding manages to retrieve the magic stone, which returns Narda's memory and Darna's super powers. At this point, we learn that Valentine is the daughter of Darna's arch nemesis Valentina, whose goal is to wipe out humanity - or a least all of Manila. But Darna's not going to let that happen.

This movie is a real chore to sit through, and is too melodramatic and juvenile for my tastes. The first half hour focuses on the tragedy and misfortunes of people displaced by natural disasters and is a real slog. The second act revolves around Ding investigating the snake cult and trying to recover Darna's magic stone, which is goofy and full of childish humor. Once she has the stone and her memories back, Narda becomes a volunteer at a refugee camp while Darna fights crime. Unfortunately, the action scenes are woefully pathetic and tarnished by low budget 1990's digital effects. The entire production is weak, the plot is juvenile and often confusing, and the tone and execution feel like an episode of "Power Rangers," except without the cool robots.

The film really has only two things going for it: Anjanette Abayari and Cherie Gil. Anjanette Abayari is beautiful and charming as Narda/Darna, and as a former cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders, she has a tight athletic body and the physicality to effectively pull off the role. She's not a great actress, but she has great presence and does an excellent job of filling out Darna's skimpy outfit in all of the right places. Even so, watching her strut and jiggle while taking out bad guys in slow motion wasn't enough to hold my interest. Cherie Gil is a much better actress and hams it up to the extreme with her over-the-top portrayal of the snake-haired Valentine. She gets a sexy outfit as well (although much more conservative than Darna's) and faces the additional challenge of fighting in stiletto heels. While it's marginally entertaining seeing them face off against each other, the overall package is dull, disappointing, and often painful to watch.