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Elite Squad 2

tn_elitesquad2aka ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN (title on American poster)
ELITE TROOP 2: NOW THE ENEMY IS ANOTHER ONE (bootleg-sounding literal translation)
ELITE SQUAD (title on marquee at the Uptown in Seattle)

ELITE SQUAD 2 (as the subtitle on the title screen says) is the 2010 follow-up to the 2007 Brazilian police epic. Same director (Jose Padilha), still writing along with Braulio Mantovani (CITY OF GOD). Wagner Moura returns as Nascimento, head of B.O.P.E., the paramilitary police unit that fights the drug gangs in the favelas of Rio. This is supposed to be quite a few years later, because the baby that was born in part 1 is now a sullen teenager. Luckily they don’t make Moura wear old man makeup or anything, they just ask you to go with it.

In part 1, you remember, Nascimento had to choose his replacement so he could retire. In the opening narration of part 2 he says “I chose a good man to replace me so I could spend more time with my family. That didn’t work out.” And like that, he’s back on the force. It’s almost like an ALIEN 3 situation, it instantly dismisses everything he worked so hard for in the last installment. But the bluntness makes it funny. It’s not only retiring that didn’t work out, it’s also spending time with his family. He’s divorced and his wife has remarried.

mp_elitesquad2And wouldn’t you know it, the new husband is one of Nascimento’s most hated people, a liberal professor and human rights activist named Fraga (Irandhir Santos). Nascimento sounds bitter and disgusted as he describes Fraga as a total scumbag in the narration, and scenes of a tense prison riot are intercut with Fraga in a lecture hall speaking about the prison population of Brazil and the plight of the underpriveleged. I’m waiting for him to be the weasel that Nascimento describes, or a cluelessly naive hippie or something, or a hypocrite… but it turns out that’s not really who he is. And as disgusted as Nascimento is to see Fraga helicoptered in to negotiate with the hostage-takers at the prison, he seems to understand that this guy’s got balls to go in there without a vest and talk to the cartels. And in fact he says himself that Fraga has the situation under control. Everything that goes wrong is caused by his squad doing what he taught them to do (shoot everybody).

Alot of the elements are the same as part 1: it starts when a crazy shootout is about to begin, then skips back and tells the events leading up to that, it has constant narration from Nascimento, he and his guys cross many lines in their police work but also oppose the many dirty cops. But the content is alot different. While the first one was about dealing with the vicious drug gangs that control the favelas, this one moves ahead to a time when Nascimento and his further militarization of the police have successfully wiped out the drug trade. In place of the cartels now they get militias, basically former and current police officers running everything like the mafia.

Nascimento is kind of a Dirty Harry character. I’m not saying he has that kind of charisma, but he’s got that same thing where he is clearly going way over the line of what a cop should be allowed to do, but we root for him to pull it off because we believe that he’s trying to do the right thing. At the same time we are – or I guess I am, I can’t really speak for all of us – sort of horrified to be supporting this. This being Brazil he’s allowed to do shit that even Callahan would be offended by. Shit that would give the Patriot Act a boner. They just treat it like a war, they got snipers in helicopters flying around taking people out.

In fact he gets into a DARK KNIGHT situation where he ends up in charge of the agency that bugs everybody. The movie presents it like it’s not even a controversial issue, of course the government has bugs everywhere and spies on everything and everybody, and it’s a respectable job to listen in and try to bust people for shit. It’s matter-of-fact enough about all this that for a while I wasn’t sure if the movie was trying to tell me this was okay. I think this is one reason why these movies have been misunderstood. They don’t hammer you over the head with it as much as you might expect. I don’t see how my buddies who said the first one was “fascist” could come out of this one still thinking that was the intent, but it takes a while to get there. I see that as a good thing.

There’s a significant addition to Nascimento’s badass qualifications in this one: he practices Brazilian jiujitsu. We know this because of a scene where he spars with his son. It’s a really good scene about their relationship but also has what seems like a more authentic portrayal of the art then I’ve seen in a movie before. It turns out Rickson Gracie (star of the documentary CHOKE) was the consultant for this.

If anybody wants to watch this to figure what Padilha’s gonna do if he really ends up doing the ROBOCOP movie, there’s good news and bad news. I know you like the bad news first so I’ll tell you, the action is all done handheld. It actually looks more like real documentary camerawork than alot of these modern “shakycam” movies, but it really does make it difficult to know how well he can stage an action scene, because you’re too busy trying to focus your eyes onto Nascimento’s face to really know where he’s going exactly.

The good news is that this is further evidence that Padilha must be interested in the substance of the Robocop concept, not just the shiny surface. This is a story about a guy who builds a police squad into an army, uses extreme violations of human rights from beatings to mass wiretappings, and (SPOILER) ultimately decides that it all has to be dismantled. If they have to remake ROBOCOP this is amazing that they didn’t just get some slick director of TV commercials, they actually got a thinker who has spent alot of time on the issues of the original movie and many that extend naturally out of the first movie.

Ah shit, I just convinced myself that Padilha’s gonna waste a couple years on ROBOCOP and then get dumped. I hope he gets some money out of it, then. Poor guy.

Anyway, the word I’d heard on ELITE SQUAD 2 was that it was more of a straight-up crowdpleaser than the first one, more of an action movie fantasy going for stick-it-to-the-man entertainment. It’s the highest grossing movie in Brazil ever, including Hollywood movies. It beat AVATAR there. But it seemed to me like this one spent alot more time explaining politics than the first one did and less time with the thrills. It definitely works, and builds to an exciting climax, but I prefer the first one as a chaotic portrait of well-meaning people hopelessly trying to claw their way out of a briar patch of violence and corruption. I saw the first one as more of a war drama than an action movie, and this one is more of a political thriller, I think.

But if they do want to go all-out action movie for a part 3 obviously Nascimento’s son has to be forced into an underground fighting tournament to the death and Nascimento and his elite squad will fight their way in to try to rescue him before the final round but then father and son have to duela bunch of experts in various martial arts and then at the end will be a little bit of the complex explanation of the rigged political system in Brazil. (2D in select theaters.)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 8th, 2011 at 2:49 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “Elite Squad 2”

  1. if the police spy on people in Brazil (with like binoculars and stuff) then they must have a hard time not being distracted by all the big Brazilian booties on display

  2. Both of the ELITE SQUAD movies are among the most fascinating and immersive crime movies I’ve ever seen. It would be nice if part 2 got a foreign language Oscar nomination for this year. That scene with the helicopter raining down hell is pretty amazing, as are a bunch of other scenes.

  3. Great Movie. That’s what a real drug-cartel movie should look like. No more idiot plots, please. What I like about this movie it that it threats us with respect. Not like if we where some dumb 5 year old kids.

  4. Worried about the ROBOCOP remake. Lotta shaky cam in ES2, and even the steady camera moves were pretty hyper. Padilha does seem to get Robocop, so that’s good. And normally I’m not invested in remakes but I just want to see more good Robocop movies. Like a whole trilogy, not just a first movie and bad sequels. Nothing will be as good as the promise of Aronofsky doing it but I’ll take any good Robocop.

  5. “Worried about the ROBOCOP remake. Lotta shaky cam in ES2, and even the steady camera moves were pretty hyper.”
    Might depend on how they handle Robocop himself. The original was a pretty slow moving character, so not really that hard to keep up with. I could imagine them making him move more nimbly for a modern update.

  6. Actually, it looks like MGM et al. have learned their lesson in regards to Robocop. Each director who has circled the project has been a talented and at least somewhat political filmmaker with a history of making flicks with subtext to match their Hard-R violence.

    Interesting behind the scenes detail: The original authors of Robocop (Michael Miner and Ed Neumeier) had right to first refusal on all sequels, adaptations, remakes and prequels of the property.

    They didn’t get to do Robocop 2.0 because of the writer’s strike of 1988. Orion got around strike issues there by making a pact with the WGA that permitted them to develop projects so long as they did not interfere with on-going contracts with guild members. The company said they wanted to make many Robocop films and that Frank Miller was being hired to develop Robocop 4 or 5. Then the Orion used Force Majeure (yes, strikes count as an act of god legally) to fire the original writers, cut Miller’s script in half and destroy their franchise.

    When the remake came up, Miner and Neumeier still retained right to first refusal. Except… MGM says they don’t. See, MGM considers Robocop to be a “Reboot” not a “Remake” and thus not covered by the terms of the original contract. If you remake a movie, you owe the original author a big, fat check. If you reboot a film, you owe them a lot less.

    The Reboot rationalization for screwing the writers makes sense if you’re readapting a pre-existing property. When Burton made, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” you could make an argument that paying the screenwriter of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was unnecessary since it was a *new* adaptation. But Robocop isn’t based on anything.

    Moral of the story: Hollywood would rather throw money at unproven actors than pay comparatively small amounts of money to writers.

  7. Tawdry Hepburn – I’ve always been curious about the original version of Robocop 2, didn’t it have something to with Robocop being dismantled and then later waking up in a future where corporations control everything and there’s no government?

    also on a somewhat off topic note, I’ve also been curious about the supposed original version of Poltergeist 2, which I can’t find any info of on the internet other than a brief mention in an old Aint It Cool article, but it was supposedly didn’t follow the Freeling family, instead the idea was that the portal to the afterlife that sucks in their house at the end of the first movie stays open, just floating in the air and the Government and Military cordon off the whole neighborhood and bring in a group of scientists who study it and eventually get sucked into the afterlife where they encounter that giant skull thing

  8. I think that Robocop: The Corporate Wars (that was the title), became the rough outline for Robocop: Prime Directives. I’ve never read the one draft Miner and Neumeier wrote, but I know that it began with Robocop being blown up and put into storage only to be rebuilt 20 years later when the world was even worse and he was outdated technology.

  9. The Canadian TV series Robocop was pretty good actually. It’s available on Netlflix as four movies.

  10. The original writers did a few of those. Actually, they wrote for all the Robocop series’, which I find very disheartening.

  11. SPOILERS

    Every review of this one seems to oversimplify things. Several seem to suggest that the movie holds equal rancor for the fascist cops and the “lily-livered” liberals, but this is 100% pure bullshit in my view. Rather both the original and this movie argue that both perspectives arise out of the necessity of circumstance, and often share the same values and goals.

    Nascimiento and Fragga agree on basically everything (including that the militarization of BOPE/eradication of trafficking paved the way for police corruption to ramp up to Mafia levels) but are unable to work productively together until the abuses of power happen to align just right.

    Vern’s review makes it sound as though Nascimiento is convinced that militarizing BOPE was a good decision until he has some “ultimate” realization. But this is inaccurate; he realizes in the very next scene what the result has been, and that he has simply played into the hands of the System.

    However, he is unable to correct the situation because he works within the confines of his position. Fragga is similarly ineffective, trying to affect change through more diplomatic/political venues and getting rebuffed at every turn.

    Eventually the same thing happens as in the first film. The sum of outrage becomes more than can be born, and Nascimiento takes shit into his own hands and applies his fascist vigilantism. This is not the film endorsing fascism, although it’s tricky because you derive intense visceral pleasure from watching Nascimiento go all Callahan on the evil politicians. Just like in the first one, nothing was fixed. Just like the void created by the cartels that was filled by the Mafia, new corrupt figures step up to fill the roles of the bosses and politicians that Nascimiento indicted.

    I loved both of these movies, and can’t really say I like one more than the other. Like the various seasons of The Wire, each concern themselves with different perspectives/institutions, and from there build to the same truths.

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