Polis Evo 2 is a courageous film. And I’m not just talking about its courageous crime-busting characters. I’m talking about its filmmakers.
The original Polis Evo (2015) struck the perfect balance between humour and seriousness, lightness and heaviness.
Pairing the jovial small-town cop Inspector Sani (Zizan Razak) and the merciless highly-skilled cop Inspector Khai (Shaheizy Sam) as part of a mission to intercept a drug trafficking operation, Polis Evo found its winning formula.
But half an hour through Polis Evo 2, I was gobsmacked. The franchise had completely thrown out its winning formula.
The sequel begins with Sani and Khai trying to capture the highly-wanted drug lord, Riky (Tanta Ginting). Going with them on the ride is eager new cop Mat Dan (Syafie Naswip).
Their quest to capture Riky leads them to a remote island, as Riky has some sort of dealings with an extremist religious cult, led by the charismatic Hafsyam (Hasnul Rahmat) who’s hiding out in a cave on the island.
Things take a turn for the worse when Hafsyam and his men take some 200 inhabitants of the island hostage, with Sani and Khai’s party caught in the mix.
What started as a drug bust became something the narcotic cops are unfamiliar with – an act of terrorism.
Polis Evo 2 is an entirely different film. And to appreciate it, you have to part with the ideas and expectations you may have gotten from the first movie.
Viewers will notice right away that there is very little humour this time round and understandably so, as the gravity of the situation leaves no room for fun and games.
On top of that, the villain here is a lot darker and the atmosphere throughout the film feels devoid of hope.
It is in this air of despondency that great character development, thought-provoking dialogues and meaningful themes rise.
The Sani-Khai friendship, which was instrumental to the success of the original, is still very much a part of the franchise. Polis Evo 2 takes it further.
There is a raw, emotionally-unhinged scene which sees Sani and Khai confronting their inner demons head on. It is a precious moment because for what feels like the first time in a long while, male friendships are portrayed as more than just a fist bump or a witty exchange. It means two macho men can sit down and talk about their feelings – something we don’t do enough.
The film also explores one of the most painful experiences of human life – guilt and grief.
We take for granted that law enforcement officers have to make life-and-death decisions on the spot that could go either way.
But not only does this message speak to cops, it speaks to anyone who has ever felt weighed down by life’s should’ves and could’ves, and have found it hard to move on.
No one expected this from an action flick but Polis Evo 2 unwittingly addresses the importance of taking care of our emotional health.
Another crucial change is the inclusion of strong female characters such as Indonesian undercover cop Rian (Raline Shah) and high-ranking Malaysian police Datuk Azizat (Erra Fazira). First things first, neither serve as a love interest to the male characters.
They are written as equals to their male counterparts, if not more capable. It is a step forward from the original for sure, which saw Nora Danish playing a damsel-in-distress.
Amid all these changes in the new instalment, one thing remains: the franchise’s well-executed action scenes. In fact, there’s more here than before.
With every passing hour, a hostage is killed until Hafsyam’s demands are met hence the efforts to push back on the terrorists’ threats are constant and relentless.
This urgency is reflected in the treatment of the action sequences, sporting a more realistic and gritty camerawork.
The success of the film relies heavily on whether its villain Hafsyam is dark and evil enough. Otherwise, the threats don’t carry as much weight.
And Hasnul, not surprisingly, rises to the occasion, especially in scenes where he is playing mind games with his hostages.
As Sani and Khai’s friendship gets tested more than ever, so does the actors’ acting chemistry. Zizan and Shaheizy have this in spades, which carry them through those unexpected emotionally-charged moments.
Trading the feel-good buddy cop movie (and not to mention, very lucrative) formula for deeper, more complex themes takes a lot of guts. (Then again, maybe this drastic change is necessary for how long can the same formula fuel the franchise?)
It makes Polis Evo 2 a bit too heavy and difficult to watch at times. Between the meaning-laden dialogues and incessant action sequences, there is little time to catch your breath.
It’s like having to take in one giant breath before you take the plunge at the start of the film and having only that same breath to sustain you until the credits roll.
But coming up for air at the end of the film is one of the best feelings. For viewers find themselves in uncharted waters in the local cinema landscape. And what a sight it is.
Polis Evo 2
Director: Joel Soh and Andre Chiew
Cast: Zizan Razak, Shaheizy Sam, Raline Shah, Hasnul Rahmat, Erra Fazira, Tanta Ginting, Syafie Naswip