A complete travesty.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Tony Jaa was nuking my brain with his unreal stunt-craft and brutal martial artistry. How it’s come to this, I have no idea.
A direct sequel to The Protector, this installment finds Kham (Jaa, Ong Bak) once again hot on the trail of a thief who stole his precious elephant. His pursuit leads him straight into a ridiculous terrorist plot that involves strapping explosives on the elephant’s tusk to blow up a visiting prime minister (yes, really). Along the way, Kham battles dirt-bike racers, a set of kung fu twin sisters, an indestructible henchman, RZA and an onslaught of horrible CGI. That’s right: CGI in a Tony Jaa movie.
The Protector 2 doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but name me a Tony Jaa film that does. The first Ong Bak sort of did and that was simply about a guy looking for a Buddha head before inexplicably gaining super fire eyeball powers at the end. The rest of the catalog? Nothing but nonsense. The Protector is near the top of that list, a jumbled non-sequitur-laden porridge of inanity — but it featured a handful of absolutely dynamite action scenes (the one-take restaurant beatdown, the bone-break-a-thon finale, the tendon-shredding face-off against the giants; oh, and Tony Jaa jump-kicked a street lamp from a standing position). So, yes, plot and coherence have never been a calling of the Jaa experience, but did he ever whoop some ass.
Even that started to unravel with Ong Bak 2, and Ong Bak 3 pulling one of the all-time douchebag plot twists that undercut all of the action that came before it. But to have what he have in The Protector 2 is simply unfathomable. Forget the garbled mess of a story: the action is an abomination and deserves as much scorn as can be heaped on it. Even if it wasn’t a Jaa movie, it’s a disgrace, laden with half-assed CGI and devoid entirely of memorable action scenes.
It won’t take long to feel the kick to the nuts either. A few minutes after the elephant vanishes, Kham gives chase and ends up on a rooftop doing battle with those dirt bikers. In what should be a centerpiece sequence, from the get-go it’s all marred by shoddy computer animation, the most dubious being when Kham is standing on a roof and four horribly rendered CGI bikes crisscross overhead.
Somehow, it just gets worse from there: a fight on a truck in front of a green screen (with no other cars on road for some reason), a big one-on-one battle on electrified train tracks, complete with lightning (!) and lightsaber sound effects (!!) and a ludicrous brawl set against a backdrop of computer-generated fire that holds zero suspense; the fighters’ feet are on fire, which would seem dangerous, but who knows what’s real or not.
See, that’s the biggest letdown of this approach. For all the narrative weaknesses of past Jaa films, the fights had stakes because dudes were really getting smacked around. Stunts led to injuries and kicks to the head led to concussions. There were no safety nets, no cheap-outs in post-production. Nothing in The Protector 2 feels earned. Any practical work is swallowed in the morass of CGI. At the end of that terrible truck chase, Jaa’s character is tossed over the bridge and swings around by a cable, which, apparently was done practically. But with all the fakeness that preceded it, who knows? His death-defying effort is wasted.
Even when Tony Jaa is unleashed for more conventional fights, some dopey effect always intrudes. The big moment of the film should have been Jaa’s fight against the hulking bruiser and they do go at it for an interminable amount of time, but the overlong length of the battle, the lack of imaginative choreography and moronic elements like the railway electricity gag waters it down significantly.
So I am left scratching my head and wondering where in the world the old Tony Jaa went. Frankly, any stiff can run around in front of a green screen pretending to dodge yet-to-be-programmed flying motorcycles. In a post The Raid: Redemption world, you need to up your game, dude.
The Blu-ray: a crisp 2.35:1/1080p transfer joins a loud DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track (English and Thai), a series of making-of featurettes looking at the cast, the director, the stunts, the 3D work, and an AXS TV special.