My rating: 2.5 out of 5
Let me start off by saying that Heneral Luna (2015) and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (2018) are being compared for a good reason. The former captures Antonio Luna as a military general. He is characterized as an impulsive, foul-mouthed, and ill-tempered general whose love for his country crosses the extremes that enrages those in authority. On the other hand, the latter recounts a part of the Philippine-American war—featuring Goyo. Unlike Heneral Luna, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral portrays Goyo as a character with insufficiency. The difference between the two is the character development; in Heneral Luna, it is no doubt that Antonio Luna as a character is depicted excellently, while in Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, the protagonist remains questionable.
Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is the sequel to Heneral Luna. It tells the events of a portion of the Philippine-American War, particularly those leading to the Battle of Tirad Pass in 1899. Throughout the film, it tries to fit in the role of Goyo as a general, along with Joven as the film’s narrator, Emilio Aguinaldo’s frustrations, and Apolinario Mabini’s sentiments on the current situation.
While the film is close to being historically consistent by capturing the key events wherein Goyo played a significant role, it fails in developing the character of Goyo himself. Although he is depicted as a lady’s man and a general whose love for his country is blinded by his loyalty to his president, there is less to dig deep because the film fails to properly concentrate on his character. The film’s narrative tries to revolve around Goyo and develop his character through the events where he is thrown into, but this is done poorly. In fact, the film isn’t about Goyo; it’s about the events leading to the Battle of Tirad Pass.
There is an attempt to centralize the narrative on Goyo as a character. The film present bits and pieces of his personality—his anxieties, his way of leading, his flirtatious attitude toward girls, and more importantly, his loyalty for Emilio Aguinaldo. However, these are the only things that we get from him; other than that, he is a one-dimensional character. For one, his anxieties toward his “blindess” are not justified; they are presented for no reason. What then is the purpose of his anxieties when they are not resolved? Was Goyo really loyal to Aguinaldo? We can see, that, based on how he performed in the film, yes, he was. However, his anxieties acted as a foreshadowing of nothing. Doubts are supposed to signify some form of change in the future, but we didn’t get this from Goyo, and his anxieties are left hanging. If the director’s goal is to present Goyo as one who is blinded by his loyalty, why not delve deeper on that? If the director’s goal is to present Goyo as a questionable man, why not delve on how he was confused and unfixed on his loyalty? With that, his character can be more detailed with much further depth.
Furthermore, the main message of the film does not contribute to the development of Goyo as a character. If the message were really Mabini’s sentiments, which reflects on genuine loyalty vs. blind loyalty, then this is where the film fails. If Goyo were supposed to represent “blind loyalty”, it was insufficient. In fact, the film tries to compensate for this flaw by sharing Joven’s feelings and Mabini’s sentiments on the Philippine-American War. This, however, avoids the development of Goyo’s character by putting the audience in other perspectives that contribute not to Goyo’s character but to the main message of the film—a message left inadequately justified by Goyo’s character. Thus, the movie isn’t about Goyo; it’s about part of the Philippine-American War. It now fails here because it tries to delve deeper into Goyo as a general, but the film leaves him as a protagonist that lacks the depth that the audience deserves.
I am not attacking the overall message or theme of the film; rather, I am criticizing the narrative that forces Goyo as a well-developed character, when in fact, he is only there just to look deficient as a character. The title of the film has Goyo’s name and the film attempts to explore on his character, but we are only presented a scattered flow of events due to the underdeveloped character of Goyo that does not fit well in a narrative that has so much more potential. In the end, the film had many things to say, but it fails to portray Goyo with profundity.
Personally, Heneral Luna was more successful simply because Luna’s character was properly “materialized”; he was there. The audience can feel him. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, on the other hand, tries to develop Goyo’s character, but instead compensates with the narrative and the sentiments of other characters. There are two approaches that the film could have taken: (1) it could have focused on the Battle of Tirad Pass and give a few main characters an equal and adequate share of character development, or (2) it could have unearthed more of Goyo’s character and demonstrate his blind/unfixed loyalty with greater detail, which could potentially result to a more unique narrative. In the end, I didn’t ask “who is Goyo?”; rather, I asked, “where is the character development?”