Tony Jaa is one of this generation’s most underrated cinematic martial artists, ruling foreign cinema with furious Muay Thai fury – but you wouldn’t know that from The Protector 2. In fact, for anyone who doesn’t know Tony Jaa’s body of work, avoid The Protector 2 at all costs. Go watch Ong-bak or The Protector, two phenomenal displays of fluid fighting that show Jaa’s real talent – not this horrid clusterf#ck of laughable green screens, cartoonish villains, Star Wars sound effects, and dizzying cinematography. Usually movies with constant badassery contain moments of exhilarating fighting, but the longer Prachya Pinkaew’s train-wreck of a sequel lasted, the more I debated if being pummeled by Tony Jaa in person would have been more enjoyable. At least my eyes would have been swollen shut?
Already having rescued a special elephant he’s meant to protect, Kham (Tony Jaa) finds himself in a heap of trouble when he’s framed for the murder of an elephant camp owner. What the police don’t know is that Kham was trying to locate his elephant after it’d been stolen, and that the elephant camp owner was already dead when Kham found him – but the police aren’t aware of that, and neither are the deceased man’s vengeful nieces. Running from both the authorities and these two female fighters, Kham finds himself in even more trouble after winding up in the clutches of LC (RZA), a local gangster looking to exploit Kham’s talents for evil. Teaming up with a familiar Interpol agent, Kham must locate his lost elephant while fighting a bevy of ranked martial artists, LC’s henchmen, the proper authorities, and anyone else standing in his path. Oh boy.
It truly pains me to recall this colossal failure, plagued by problems that you’d need fifty hands to count on to total them all. Where should we start? OK, let’s keep it simple first – how about Tony Jaa fighting an onslaught of baddies trained by Wimp Lo from Kung Pow: Enter The Fist. Yes, these incoherent buffoons were experts in the art of getting as close to Tony Jaa as possible only to stop in their tracks and enter one of Tony’s swift combos. Most don’t even attempt to throw a punch or act the least bit menacing, really showcasing their skills of getting kicked in the face repeatedly. The Protector 2 felt like an elongated version of Spike Lee’s Oldboy hallway scene remake, where henchmen actually avoid hurting our main character, lining up to receive their beating like little lap dogs.
Let’s next explore Pinkaew’s technical team, comprised of a cinematographer with no vision, a rough-around-the-edges digital team, a metal obsessed music department, and sound guys willing to rip iconic effects straight from legendary movies. No joke – as Tony fights a warrior known as No. 2 (Marrese Cump) while standing on electrified train tracks, every jolting blow creates a shockwave burst of power that’s aided by swinging lightsaber sound effects from Star Wars. Um, what? At least the noises worked though, because The Protecter 2 displays incredibly poorly rendered green screen backdrops that blur at the slightest interference – say a character’s hair. It’s bad enough these animated settings stick out like Honey Boo Boo at a country buffet, but even the slightest movement highlights just how visually amateur The Protector 2 seems.
Driving home how blasphemously unappealing The Protector 2 is, let me attempt to describe what might be the ugliest fight sequence in history. Maybe I’ve been spoiled with movies like The Raid, but Pinkaew attempts to choreograph an epic chase scene where Kham flees from a motocross gang numbered in the hundreds, only managing some lame ballet propelled by a tornado of disgusting visual effects. Kham eventually lures his pursuers up flights of stairs to a maze-like roof, something our bikes have no difficulty with, but this is where things get absolutely asinine. These baddies refuse to leave their bikes, only knowing how to attack by raising their wheels or running Kham over. Seems simple, right? Well, when you’ve got a billion motorcycling henchmen who feel it necessary to slam the brakes right before actually harming Kham, the whole charade loses any danger.
For what seems like an eternity, Kham rolls around on the ground while riders zoom past him, whacking these morons off their bikes with ease as they don’t throw a single punch, brandish any sort of weaponry (sans one or two moments), or show ANY motocross skills worth getting amped about. The whole abomination breaks down numerous times to cyclists riding in a circle around Kham, tormenting him – after Kham personally subdued, like, 50 of their equally moronic buddies. Right. RIDE IN A CIRCLE AROUND HIM MENACINGLY. THAT WILL SHOW KHAM! Oh look, he grabbed your bike and threw you off an ‘effing roof, like you were waiting for it. Mix this vapid lunacy with pixelated knives, blurry backdrops, animated motorcycles, and horrendous overacting, and there you have it – The Protector 2.
All this and I haven’t even referenced RZA’s egregiously distracting turn as LC, some type of pimpin’ gangster who runs an underground fighting ring that ranks opponents – a side plot never fully explained. LC reminds me of some horrendous anime character who looks a fool most of the time, attempting to balance dark humor with menacing actions only to yield horrendously laughable results. It’s as if RZA is in on this strange joke the rest of the cast missed out on, running about like an exaggerated mix between Killer No. 2 from Bunraku and some Dragon Ball Z type villain. LC is a punchline that never delivers, and a failure of a villainous force on every level.
There’s no saving The Protector 2. We’re talking about a movie that randomly cuts to Street Fighter inspired versus battles, ignoring any realm of coherent storytelling. A movie that repeatedly shows characters falling off of VERY high places (cliffs/skyscrapers) with no consequence. A movie where Interpol agents are essentially cardboard cutouts with no acting charisma. A movie that plants four characters in a concrete room where the walls have ignited into a fiery inferno, and forces a video game inspired fight sequence with flames that look like something from a 90s computer program. Sure Tony Jaa, go ahead and plant your feet on the walls so you can swing your incendiary footwear at opponents. Surely the rest of you won’t catch on fire, or at the least have melted shoes! No, you’re Tony Jaa! Fire can’t stop you! It’s not like the room would fill with smoke or anything, suffocating you and your competition!
I get that The Protector 2 is supposed to be fun. Hell, it’s about a martial arts master rescuing an elephant – again. I mean, how do you lose an elephant anyway – no, sorry, I’m done ranting. The Protector 2 strives to be a cult classic of sorts, aiming for laughs and gasps simultaneously, but without a primary focus being monitored on either front, Pinkaew’s latest film becomes laughable for all the wrong reasons. Sure, with a cleaner look and a bit of added realism, Tony Jaa could be sitting on another stylistic success. Keyword: could. Instead, I’m left speechless by this boring, soulless husk of an action romp. Honestly, I’ve just experienced the worst genre material I’ve seen in ages – scantily clad female assassins and all.
The Protector 2 is a sadly misguided action abomination filled with ugly visuals and confused characters, failing to showcase any genre competency in the least bit.