Unlike Mammootty's other action blockbusters in 2000s like Rajamanikyam or Big B, Pokkiri Raja never had novelty in the sketch of its lead character. Raja and his story were already a rehash of his other characters from the past, so when a sequel to Pokkiri Raja was announced, it came as a surprise.
Perhaps one aspect that stood out in Pokkiri Raja was how it still gave space to Prithviraj Sukumaran in a Mammootty movie, allowing him to have a blast in the first half, before Mammootty arrived at the interval. Despite being slightly loud, Suraj Venjaramoodu's Idivettu Sugunan also raised few laughs in the movie. When you come to the sequel Madhura Raja, you already miss these two factors.
A mass action entertainer gets more enjoyable when you have lead characters who think ahead of the audience or who catches you unaware with twists and turns. It is not as if writer Udayakrishna hasn't done that in the past. When he used to be a team with Siby K Thomas, they staged Devaraja Varma's transformation scene in Twenty20 very smartly, which is still one of Mohanlal's most memorable mass moments. In Runway, how Valayar Paramashivam (Dileep) gets his lorries past the check-post was a masterstroke in screenplay writing. Such spark has been missing elsewhere in their career or even when Udayakrishna became an independent writer.
In Madhura Raja, the only place which is well scripted is where Mammootty outsmarts and traps a police officer- the scene where Rajendra Babu (Siddique) from Pokkiri Raja is re-introduced as well. Other than that, even though Manoharan Mangalodayam (Salim Kumar) says "twist twist" throughout the movie (just like Pokkiri Raja), you can predict at every point what is to come next. There is nothing more painful than villain characters without brains, who cannot calculate the simplest of next moves by the hero when the audience can do it. You are treated to more of them in Madhura Raja.
What you also miss in Madhura Raja is the thrills or tense moments that could lead to action scenes. Pulimurugan where Udayakrishna debuted as an independent writer might not be a great movie as a whole. But a couple of its action scenes were well-placed. One where Murugan sees the chain he had given to his brother with a henchman before the fight starts might be inspired from several movies, but it worked in that context.
Vysakh knows a thing or two about directing such mass entertainers. He manages to elevate a few scenes with his execution even when the writing falters. For someone who is 67, Mammootty's action scenes look more convincing in Madhura Raja than 2017's Masterpiece. Peter Hein's work which looked shoddy in Odiyan looks better here too. It just shows that Vysakh's association with both of them helps. The chase sequences with the dogs are well shot, but the violence might not work well with kids.
Mammootty gives his hundred percent and makes the movie look lot better than what it is. His energy at this age of 67 is infectious. How he enters in style to the "Thalaivaa" theme at many places is the main reason you sit through the movie. His renewed comic timing from the Rajamanikyam days is put into good use. He is also given a scene to showcase his prowess in emotional situations and he doesn't miss out on the opportunity.
Anusree is getting typecast in the angry elder sister roles. Her character here is just a louder version of the one in Aadhi. Jai does a very decent job in his debut in Malayalam but he could have been given a more prominent role. Salim Kumar almost returns to form as he provides the much-needed comic relief at places. Veterans like Nedumudi Venu, Vijayaraghavan or Siddique have nothing much to do. It is little surprising that Vysakh did not go for a change and still stuck with Jagapati Babu for his antagonist. It is equally surprising that Jagapati Babu once again chose to portray a villain who is a mere caricature.
Gopi Sunder's background score is a little loud at places. But he has polished the "Thalaiva" and "Raja" themes from the first movie pretty well, which does help in boosting the impact of few scenes. In other industries, when there were item songs in the first installments, directors like Rajamouli have done away with them in the sequels (like you see in Bahubali series). On the contrary, it is baffling why Malayalam industry continues to hold onto that tradition - Kayamkulam Kochunni, Lucifer and now Madhura Raja. Some of the jokes were double entendre and crass, while few others worked. Their explanation to what Prithviraj's Surya is busy with these days would play to the gallery.
In an ideal world, you wish Mammootty does more meaningful and performance driven movies like Peranbu, because he is still such a wonderful actor. Movies like Madhura Raja could help us realize how Mammootty could move from one genre of a movie to another with such amazing ease. But to serve that purpose, he also needs tighter scripts. For now, Madhura Raja is just another average mass commercial movie that rides almost entirely on its lead actor's shoulders.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.