TOKYO — In the age of billion dollar-earning superhero films, launching a cinematic universe in the vein of Marvel’s decade-long “Avengers” continuity is a daunting task — which can nonetheless benefit from the hindsight of the Hollywood-tested formula.
But breakout director Treb Monteras II, who carries this precise undertaking with the James Reid starrer “Pedro Penduko,” is opting not to rely on the Marvel Cinematic Universe template, no matter how lucrative or critically successful.
For the “Respeto” filmmaker, it’s all about catering foremost to the Filipino audience, as he prepares to shepherd new-generation superheroes to the big screen.
Monteras spoke with ABS-CBN News about “Pedro Penduko” on the sidelines of the 31st Tokyo International Film Festival, where “Respeto,” his acclaimed hip hop film about the parallel terrors of Martial Law and the present government’s war on drugs, is being screened under the Crosscut Asia section.
Coming from “Respeto,” his feature-length directorial debut, Monteras admittedly sees “Pedro Penduko” as a gargantuan responsibility, given its scale and vision.
“Mahirap ‘yung pelikula na ‘to, kasi malaki ang expectation. It’s a franchise. Mas matanda pa ‘yung comics ng ‘Pedro Penduko’ kumpara sa Marvel, kasi 1950s pa ‘to, e,” he said.
That the filmmakers who had previously helmed big-screen adaptations of “Pedro Penduko” — the late Celso Ad. Castillo, and Erik Matti — are respected figures in Philippine cinema, is not lost on Monteras.
“Sa akin, nakaka pressure, kaya tina-try ko as much as possible to make it my own. As much as possible, ayoko rin kumopya sa ginagawa ng Hollywood movies o ibang pelikula. We want to make it as Filipino as possible. Na-realize namin, hindi namin kailangan mag-compete sa Hollywood movies. Dapat iyong istorya ang nagdadala,” he said.
Based on the Francisco Coching classic komiks, the re-imagined “Pedro Penduko” sees the titular character as a US-raised millennial, Peter Harris, whose return to the Philippines to re-connect with his mother has him discovering his extraordinary powers.
Monteras described the story as “more friendly,” compared to “Respeto,” in that it will be a viewing fit for the entire family. “But of course,” the director said, “mayroon pa ring message na gusto sabihin.”
Characters joining Pedro Penduko in the “Engkantos” cinematic universe, as announced in a June press conference, are Totoy Bato, Bernardo Carpio, Osyana, Maria Makiling, Habagat, and the Republika trio — each with their own planned solo movie.
Cast so far are Kylie Verzosa as the sea siren Osyana, and Nadine Lustre as the mythological diwata Maria Makiling. The latter will be joining Reid in “Pedro Penduko.”
Also planned to be brought to the big screen are the respective villains of the komiks heroes: Alakdana, Apo Dautan, Grago, Bandido, and Bildado.
“Medyo mahaba-haba ‘to,” Monteras said. “Kung ano ang sisimulan ng ‘Pedro,’ iyon ang jumpoff point. ‘Yung storya mismo ng cinematic universe, ibi-base sa ‘Pedro,’ kaya mahirap simulan. Parang siya ‘yung pinaka bibliya.”
After months of meticulous pre-production work, “Pedro Penduko” is set to finally start principal photography this month, “pero ang arangkada talaga niyan, early next year,” Monteras said.
According to the director, lead actor Reid will be focusing on the project in the months to come — a “directive” from Viva Films, a co-producer of “Pedro Penduko.” (Viva Artists Agency, a sister company, is managing Reid’s career.)
“Masyadong malaki ‘yung role, kasi it’s a start of a cinematic universe,” Monteras explained. “Aside from investing ‘yung finances, gusto rin nila, mag-invest ng time. Gusto namin siya gawin nang tama. Siyempre, kung simula siya ng cinematic universe, dapat simula pa lang, todo na.”