'The Raid 2'
‘The Raid’ (or ‘The Raid: Redemption‘, if you must) was a brilliantly nasty little action movie that came out of nowhere to warm the cold hearts of fans of blood-soaked entertainment. The sequel ramps up the story and action into a full-on crime epic.
The original ‘The Raid’ was a perfectly structured bit of B-movie bliss: a few minutes of setup, followed by 90 minutes of exquisitely crafted carnage that combined all the best elements of vintage John Carpenter, vintage Jackie Chan, ‘Ong Bak’, ‘Die Hard’, and a few dozen other action classics that played in a loop in Wales-transplant writer/director Gareth Evans’ mind. Before his breakout film was released, Evans cleverly sold off the remake rights specifically in order to finance a sequel. That money went a long way in Indonesia.
Given that brevity and a deliberately small scale played such a large role in the original flick’s success, the sequel’s narrative excess is particularly evident. Yet, there’s no denying that it features some of the most visceral action sequences ever caught on film. With this genre, that goes a long way.
Although the story opens two hours after the original, those expecting a direct continuation have gotten the old bait-and-switch. Essentially, Evans picks things up immediately just to kill off every single surviving character other than star/fight choreographer Iko Uwais. A confusing chronology-bending first act sends his honest cop character Rama into prison to infiltrate the city’s top crime family undercover, a la ‘The Departed’ (and ‘Infernal Affairs’ and many others). A big, muddy, gruesome fight scene in the middle is shot in remarkable single takes to keep the target ADHD audience in check, but really Evans has only started winding up the narrative.
Once Rama is released, we’re introduced to a wide cast of local crime heavies who are then weaved into a complex knot of double-crosses, betrayal and murder. Evans is clearly trying to craft a crime epic along the lines of ‘Heat’ and does a decent job. The trouble is that those ambitions don’t play into the filmmaker or the franchise’s strengths. Thankfully, he also creates a number of comical baddies for Rama to battle in what amounts to an hour-long action climax staged across an entire city. Among them are an evil crime lord with a combover and a cane (Alex Abbad), the overambitious/psychotic son of another crime lord (Arfin Putra), and a collection of hard-fighting sidekicks, most memorably the hilarious duo of Baseball Boy and Hammer Girl (so named after their weapons of choice).
The plot can stop and start with irritating awkwardness, but it’s capably written and wonderfully acted. Still, beyond expanding the running time to an ill-conceived 2.5 hours, it doesn’t add much. The real heart of the movie lies in the set-pieces, and much like ‘The Raid’ they’re absolutely spectacular. Evans’ genius is knowing how to expertly shoot and stage a fight scene to rival the finest martial arts epics, without ever stylizing the fights to the point of feeling like a dance. The indigenous Indonesian fight style he uses depends on full contact, and as a result the fight scenes offer the gleefully splattered blood of a horror flick.
Only a few movies into his career, Evans has already made a name for himself as one of the current masters of the genre. He fills ‘The Raid 2’ with the greatest action scenes you’ll see all year. Part of the reason why it’s so thrilling is that no two action scenes feel alike. We get a filthy prison brawl, a heart-poundingly dangerous car chase, a kitchen showdown that uses all possible tools for impalement, and a few morbidly hilarious slapstick showdowns involving the aforementioned baseball/hammer duo (who really deserve a spinoff movie).
Each and every one of those action scenes (and others) are so brilliantly conceived and expertly executed that any problems with narrative overload are easily forgiven. This is the type of movie that will force packed movie houses to explode with laughter and applause even if viewers aren’t normally inclined to react to movies so openly. The set-pieces are just that good. In a nice blast from the past, they’re also executed physically through a mixture of masterful choreography and an almost reckless disregard for physical safety that could never happen in Hollywood.
Gareth Evans has proven himself to be so damn good at genre filmmaking that a Hollywood pilgrimage is inevitable and deserved. (He will have his own superhero franchise within the next five years, guaranteed.) Hopefully that won’t move the director out of Indonesia permanently. The guy has created an astounding little action movie factory there that only just seems to be hitting its stride. It would be a real shame to bust up the party early.