J2: J Retribusi (2021) Review

Following the (unexpected) success of the otherwise heavy-handed J Revolusi four years ago, the inevitable sequel — J2: J Retribusi — has finally arrived exclusively for streaming on the newly-launched Disney+ Hotstar.

As much as I disliked the first movie, I have to admit an action-packed film like J2: J Retribusi came in just right on time when all of us Malaysians have to deal with another COVID-19 lockdown. This time, the sequel takes a cue from the first Die Hard formula, with the ex-UTK (Unit Tindakan Khas/Special Action Unit)  hero (Zul Ariffin reprising his role as Jay Zulkarnain) is now working as a personal bodyguard for the hotel tycoon’s (Rosyam Nor’s Dato Hashim) little daughter (Ainin Batrisya’s Nadi).

The Die Hard formula in question refers to the single location that takes place in a hotel (in this case, Berjaya Waterfront Hotel in Johor Bahru). It doesn’t take long before the hotel is held under siege by a group of heavily armed gunmen led by Taufiq (the late Ashraf Sinclair, who passed away last February at the age of 40 due to a heart attack).

With the help of a Chinese bodyguard (Chen Yiming’s Chang) and the hotel manager (Amelia Henderson’s Amy), Jay is basically the sort-of John McClane mould in J2: J Retribusi. Instead of a cop, he’s a former UTK member-turned-bodyguard who knows his way around with weapons and martial arts. Minus the wisecracking personality and the street-smart sensibility that made Bruce Willis’ role such an iconic action hero in the first place. Here, Zul Ariffin’s Jay is more of a no-nonsense protagonist who looks the part when comes to a physically demanding role, even though his acting remains substandard. This is especially true when he requires to emote during certain melodramatic moments.

Zul Ariffin and Ainin Batrisya in "J2: J Retribusi" (2021)

The story — credited to Alfie Palermo, who wrote the first movie and now with additional inputs from Azhar Amirulhisyam and Anwari Ashraf — is basically nothing more than a straightforward Die Hard-style action film. Clocking around 95 minutes, the film is packed with enough action from gunfights to martial arts and explosions to keep you distracted from its generic storyline. A storyline best described as part of the assembly line lifted from a ready-made Die Hard formula that has been reused over and over again. In other words, if you have seen enough of this action genre over the last few decades, it’s all familiar and been-there-done-that kind of stuff from start to finish in J2: J Retribusi.

As long as you aren’t one of those demanding kinds expecting something new or fresh, J2: J Retribusi has its few entertaining moments. Under the guidance of action director and choreographer (Caspar) Keung Kam-Kui, whose credits in the action/stunt department for several Hong Kong films such as Coweb (2009), The Legend Is Born – Ip Man (2010) and Trivisa (2016), J2: J Retribusi favours more of today’s highly-agitated and athletic camerawork than say, something clean and crisply shot seen in the likes of a John Wick movie.

That’s not to say opting for a jerky type of camerawork is entirely a poor creative choice (one of the prime examples that utilise such shooting style effectively were The Raid and its superior 2014 sequel). It does evoke some visceral impact during some of the action scenes, particularly when it takes place in a brightly lit interior (the first few fights involving a hotel maid-in-disguise and one of Taufiq’s henchmen outside the hotel corridor quickly come to mind). There’s even a notable scene in the hotel kitchen, where the action is mostly shot in the video game-style first-person perspective as we witness Jay single-handedly takes down a few enemies.

The late Ashraf Sinclair in his final performance as Taufiq in "J2: J Retribusi" (2021)

But there are times where the film set in dimly-lit scenarios, which makes me hard to distinguish or see what’s going on during the action scenes. It immediately reminded me of how Antoine Fuqua did some of the same creative mistakes in Olympus Has Fallen and yes, even Ric Roman Waugh’s second sequel in Angel Has Fallen.

Acting-wise, other than Zul Ariffin, Ashraf Sinclair’s unexpectedly final performance as the main antagonist Taufiq is at least fares better than the last time played by Farid Kamil in J Revolusi. The rest of the cast such as Ainin Batrisya, Chen Yiming, Rosyam Nor and Amelia Henderson all deliver adequate supports in their respective roles.

Co-directors Nazrul Asraff Mahzan and Nazim Shah, who replaced the first film’s Zulkarnain Azhar, does a decent, workmanlike job in their first feature-length directorial debut. The former’s credits mainly worked as production designer and art directors for local films like Leftenan Adnan (2000), Sangkar (2019) and Bulan dan Pria Terhebat (2020). The latter, in the meantime, was primarily known for its editing works in action films like J Revolusi and the first two Polis Evo.

J2: J Retribusi is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar beginning today, all included as part of the package that’s reportedly has 800 films and 18,000 episodes of Walt Disney’s wealth of popular TV series. And most of all, it only costs RM54.90 for 3 months’ worth of subscription (that’s RM18.30 per month).