Lieutenant Colonel Nascimento (Wagner Moura) has seen some things in his tenure in the Brazilian military police that many would prefer he kept to himself. But now he has decided to speak up, which has made him a target of the forces of corruption - and death. Four years ago, there seemed to be a turning point as while he was under no illusions about the criminal class populating the prisons, there was a powerful left wing lobbying for the rights of those prisoners which was all very well, but all Nascimento could see was a bunch of dupes trying to get an easy life for people who would not think twice about murdering them if it meant they could get their way. Yet how true was this?
Director José Padilha had already made his first Elite Squad movie in 2007, and it was such a success that the Brazilian public were clamouring for more, just as well when he reteamed with Rodrigo Pimentel, who based much of both movies on his own experiences, for this follow-up which if anything was even better received than the initial instalment had been. If there had been criticism of that, it was down to the perceived extreme right wing take on the crime situation that had come across as endorsing violence and even murder as a way of keeping the peace, no matter that you don't get much peace with that sort of behaviour endemic in your society, and the sequel was aware of this.
Therefore it began seemingly to endorse the unspoken belief of the police at all levels that if they had the opportunity to shoot miscreants dead, they were doing the world a favour, which would give many who liked to think they were living in a civilised environment pause, but then went on to spend the rest of the two hours of running time ruminating on the consequences of that point of view. The conclusion it reached was that nothing was as simple as it seemed when it came to law and order, and the problem with treating the criminals as cannon fodder was, for a start, the underclass had no willingness to improve themselves as they felt they were living on borrowed time anyway.
The other problem was the police themselves lapsed all too greedily into corruption, behaving not merely as if they were above the law of the land, but actively breaking it, so that after Nascimento is installed as a major player in the authorities thanks in part to a prison riot ending in bloodshed that divided the nation nonetheless with its scandal, his actions inadvertently cause this breed of murderous, drug-dealing cops to enjoy a boom time. This exhibits itself not solely in skimming off protection money from the dealers and gangsters, but actually replacing them on the food chain of crime, cutting out the middle man by organising the deals themselves, and Nascimento, whose narration we hear throughout which is useful when there's this abundance of information to take in, realises the situation cannot go on.
Part of that is down to his teenage son being arrested on drugs charges, making him acknowledge that not all criminals are scum deserving to be punished with violence, but simply kids who have taken the wrong path thanks to poverty, peer pressure, normalising of criminal activities, and so on. If this is sounding like a lecture, it was in a way, and definitely wanted to impart a lesson (the plot even began with a lecture in college where the tutor estimates by 2081, 90% of the Brazilian population will be behind bars!), but Padilha was keen to deliver the thriller elements too, so while you were overloaded with points to take into account for much of the time, there were also shootouts, car chases, helicopters raining bullets down onto slums, and so on to keep the adrenalin pumping in the audience. As an intelligent action movie, it was quite an accomplishment, but maybe a documentary would have been a more comfortable approach - though if it had been, it might not have garnered the same attention, so that was smart in itself. Music by Pedro Bromfman.