Only a short time after the first raid, Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force
It’s nearly impossible for me to put into words how anxious and excited I was to see The Raid 2. After the incredible intensity & jaw dropping fight scenes of the first film the sequel had its work cut out for it. But against all reasonable logic writer/director Gareth Evans (returning to helm the sequel) has crafted a film that not only eclipses the original in terms of intensity but it sets a new gold standard for martial arts choreography with some of the most amazing fight scenes ever put to film. But I did have a problem with the film and it’s a big one…
The Raid 2 opens with a overhead wide shot of a beautifully serene Indonesian field and as his camera gets closer to the ground we see a group of men digging a hole while surrounding another man who’s been severely beaten and on his knees. The identity of the beaten man becomes more evident as the camera gets even closer and once Evans gets us into the action close up the homage to Goodfellas (1990) becomes very clear. The identity of the individual who’s about to die is the catalyst for Rama (Iko Uwais) to return to action as an undercover agent looking to uncover corrupt policemen and their ties to organized crime. But to do this he has to leave his family and get himself incarcerated into prison in order to get close to the son of a crime boss who’s doing time.
What Evans has attempted to do with this film is have it evolve from it’s predecessor from an all out action film to a crime saga with hard core action elements. It’s a daring and heady move as well since he’s not only adding quite a bit of storyline to the proceedings but he also has to up the action quotient in a way that doesn’t overshadow the dramatic elements of the piece. And make no mistake, the film takes pains to emphasize the drama as nearly everyone in the film is trying to backstab everyone else with elements of films as varied as The French Connection (1971), The Chinese Connection (1972), The Godfather Part 2 (1974), The Game Of Death (1978), Kill Bill: Vol. One (2003) & the aforementioned Goodfellas all tossed into the mix. The problem is that at a running time of 148 minutes (47 minutes longer than the original) the film feels bloated and overlong with the entire thing almost coming to a dead halt halfway through the film. By indulging his desire to create a film that has more message than the first film he slows its pace and after the screening I spoke to some others who actually began to drift to sleep during all of the Shakespearian skullduggery taking place. It’s a noble effort and Evans can’t be faulted for trying to add something more to the mix but in the end people want to see the film for its action scenes, not for the drama.
But Evans hasn’t forgotten that necessary action either! The action/fight scenes in The Raid 2 eclipse the ones in the first film in every conceivable way, they are conceptually, cinematically, visually & esoterically better than just about any action/fight scenes you’ve ever seen before. The intensity of the fight scenes creates an odd tension (A desirable tension maybe?) in the audience that’s palpable & nerve wracking. The sheer violence of it all lead me to wonder how on earth the film got away with an “R” rating, it’s so violent at times you’ll swear you’re watching an underground horror film that’s been banned by every country on the planet. The seeming rationale of everyone fighting is “Make sure the fight is over” so smacking someone’s head against a wall once just won’t do – smack it against that wall a dozen times until that poor head is just a pulpy mess. Why stab someone in the throat with a broken bottle just once when you can do it 8 times? Suffice it to say that when someone dies in The Raid 2, they really, really die. No miracle comebacks by the “Though to be dead” in this flick.
The fight choreography is just stupendous! Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog of the first film), Iko Uweis & Larnell Stovall have conspired to create a sinful symphony of carefully crafted (but plausible) fight scenarios that had the audience I watched it with give the film repeated ovations of appreciation. And the new adversaries Evans has thought up to battle against Rama are truly unique and memorable. The deaf/dumb “Hammer Girl” (Julie Estelle) & her partner in destruction “Baseball Bat Man” (Very Tri Yulisman) are two of the most charismatic and entertaining characters I’ve seen in a long time and their fight scenes are near epic in the level of sheer level over the top violence presented within them. If you’re a fan of this kind of thing you haven’t lived until you see Baseball Bat Man call a shot with his bat like baseball legend Babe Ruth was rumored to have done back in his heyday. Amazingly Estelle claims to have known nothing of any martial arts before she was cast in the film but she acquits herself quite nicely and looks like she’s been beating people to a pulp for years. Among the standout fight scenes are a melee that takes place in an incredibly muddy prison courtyard and an amazing scrap that takes place in the backseat of a moving vehicle that’s in the middle of a car chase, both of them will make your jaw drop in amazement.
Evans also edited the film and in addition to his steady hand behind the camera he cuts the film with care & precision. Editing the fight scenes into something that looks smooth & realistic alone seems like an insurmountable task but he proves himself a genius at cutting these scenes logically while maximizing their ferocity and violence. The editing in the prison courtyard scene is something that should be taught in film school, Evans makes it all seem so natural and more importantly, believable. There’s a method to his madness and I shudder to think how he’s going to be able to top what he’s achieved here (a 3rd entry has been announced), the synchronicity of it all is just astounding.
But the attempt to weave a crime saga into all of the action really muddles the middle of the film, it’s far too convoluted, talky and at times boring. You can feel the effort Evans makes when he finds a reason to insert a fight scene into all of the jabbering that the gangsters do. It all felt so unnecessary and in my humble opinion no action film should run longer than 90-120 minutes tops. It’s extended length makes the film a near ordeal at times but the incredibly charismatic performances and fight choreography to die for make up for all of the ennui. Ultimately The Raid 2 is a cranium cracking, leg snapping, arm breaking, knee crushing, bullet piercing, face smashing, body breaking work of cinematic art that is the first must see film of 2014! Even if you’re not a fan of this kind of film you owe it to yourself to witness the grandiosity of it all. You won’t regret it.
The Raid 2 is now available on bluray from Sony Entertainment
The Raid 2 – 4.5 out of 5 shrouds