The Legend of Baron To’a
Uli Latukefu, Nathaniel Lees, John Tui, Jay Laga’aia
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…like a bombastic graphic novel brought roaring to cinematic life, where every punch, beat and quotable piece of dialogue is a certified haymaker.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to write about a film without devolving into a jabbering pile of fangasm and just shouting “Go see this!” from the closest rooftop. Overhype is one of the quickest ways to kill enthusiasm, and while good-faith recommendations are appreciated, there is such a thing as going too full force. As such, let’s try and keep things triple-C, while at the same time giving this genuinely bad-ass film its due.
The style on offer here is the kind that only comes around when all production hands on deck are on the same page. This wrestling action-comedy takes place in a single New Zealand cul-de-sac, but the dialogue and characterisation are so on-point, it feels like its own micro-universe. The aggressive variety of quotables in the writing, the articulated reverence for the titular wrestling icon, not to mention the numerous side-linings of more Americanised quips to keep things proper local; John Argall gives the film a healthy bedrock with this script. And from there, director Kiel McNaughton and DOP Drew Sturge deliver on the visuals. While the initial Fast & Furious typeface in the opening credits is a bit disconcerting (although, considering John Tui’s turn in Hobbs & Shaw, weirdly appropriate), what proceeds manages to balance very crisp cinematography and Augie Davis’ fantastic fight choreography with the more grounded suburban drama.
Purely as an action film, the level of energetic finesse on-screen is worth the price of admission alone, with a collection of throwdowns that will likely get highly spirited reactions. Especially when backed by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s phenomenal soundtrack work (pretty much every track could be its own glorious wrestling entrance theme), along with outright bangers courtesy of Kiwi hip-hop collective SWIDT.
As for the story at large, while it may share plenty of similarities with other fighting sports films, it follows the rest of the production in how the talent involved and the film’s flavour build on the premise. Uli Latukefu as Fritz and his mission to reclaim his father’s wrestling belt is the kind of hero’s journey that can hold its own alongside the heavier hitters coming out of the US, both in efficacy and in how the character is just that damn cool.
Psychologically astute, finessed as a fighter, and with a vocabulary to rival Gustave H., Latukefu is the magnetic nucleus around which this warrior’s yarn revolves. And when paired with Tui as the Baron himself (whom audiences that grew up on Power Rangers SPD might get a little jazzed about), along with Nathaniel Lees (Captain Mifune from The Matrix sequels) and Jay Laga’aia (Captain Typho from the Star Wars prequels), he brings the best out of some of NZ’s most underrated actors.
The Legend Of Baron To’a is like a bombastic graphic novel brought roaring to cinematic life, where every punch, beat and quotable piece of dialogue is a certified haymaker.