The Raid 2
When "The Raid" was released in theaters back in 2011, it wowed critics and audiences with its slam-bang action sequences that immersed viewers into the midst of a police squad's assault on a crime lord's apartment complex that goes horribly wrong.
It had a miniscule plot, thinly drawn characters and about as much depth as an issue of Maxim magazine, but it was also an exhilarating piece of cinema. The film never aimed to be anything other than a hyper-charged action picture, and as such, "The Raid" fired on all cylinders with its ultraviolent set pieces that were as brutally entertaining as they were brilliantly executed.
Now comes "The Raid 2," which is bigger, bloodier and even more batshit insane than its predecessor.
Iko Uwais reprises his role as Rama, the rookie cop who, merely a few hours after pummeling through thirty floors of gangsters in order to take out a ruthless crime lord, is recruited once again by his officers in command for another dangerous task. In order to infiltrate the notorious Jakarta family's division of organized crime, Rama is forced to go undercover as an inmate of the same prison that's keeping Uco, the adviser to the head of the Jarkata syndicate, behind bars. By getting close to Uco in jail, Rama plans to assimilate into his gang and eventually put an end to its reign of crime, led by the infamous mob boss, Bangun.
Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan, setting off a chain of events that results in absolute carnage.
Both squirm-inducingly savage and viciously entertaining in its bloodshed, some may consider "The Raid 2" to be indefensible on a moral level, but as with the first film the thrill of enduring its violence stems from its wildly innovative choreography. Each sequence of combat is stylized in such an over-the-top fashion that the film draws attention to its intentional lack of realism, reminding the viewer of the fact that they are watching a composed series of "stunts and performances" as a form of escapism.
As a director, Evans knows how to orchestrate and film his sequences of action in ways that are viscerally intense through his endlessly inventive compositions of shots. Equally impressive is the fact that Evans edited the film as well, compiling the various brawls into sequences that capture the speed and intensity of the fights while always maintaining a sense of coherent structure for the audience. From a mud-drenched prison brawl to a high-speed car chase, Evans is always able to convey a twisted sense of beauty amidst the violent chaos of his set pieces.
The main factor that distinguishes "The Raid 2" from its predecessor, and what makes it a sequel that can be appreciated as a standalone work for those who haven't seen the first film, is where "The Raid" was an exercise in pure action and spectacle, "The Raid 2" feels more like a crime thriller in which operatic martial-arts set pieces propel the drama forward. It reminds me of how other iconic sequels such as "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and "The Dark Knight," which also became more epic in scope and dealt with more ambitious ideas, still managed to keep the tone of the original films intact.
Another trait that "The Raid 2" shares with those pictures is its excessive increase in length when compared to its first installment. At two-and-a-half hours (nearly an hour longer than its predecessor), "The Raid 2" does lag at times, particularly when the plot gets needlessly complicated with side characters and subplots, and it lacks the tight pacing of the first film. But it makes up for it both through the audacity of its violent set pieces and building a more developed sense of dramatic tension.
Where "The Raid" launched the viewer into the midst of the drug bust without any introduction to the characters, "The Raid 2" does a solid job of conveying most of the main characters' personalities, motivations, fears and desires. They're far from the most complex, three-dimensional individuals you'll see depicted onscreen, but for a film that's more prioritized with constructing action scenes than telling a story the characters are serviceable enough to feel real within Evans' fictionalized portrayal of Indonesia.
In fact, some of the most memorable characters in this film are the most enigmatic. One antagonist who wields a pair of hammers as her weapon of choice is known only as Hammer Girl, and while she doesn't utter a word of dialogue, you can feel her cold-blooded stare through her menacingly badass pair of sunglasses -- which is more than enough to get the impression that she's bad news even before she starts whacking people in the face.
Her partner in crime, credited as Baseball Man, is equally as intimidating, and also delivers the film's funniest, sickest joke. In a way, both he and Hammer Girl are the most fascinating characters in the film, despite the fact that they are practically stock villains, because they're conveyed in such a simplistic, over-the-top manner that they feel right out of a comic book, reminding the viewer of the fact that as violent as "The Raid 2" is, it never aims to be anything other than a highly accentuated piece of action entertainment.
While certainly not for the squeamish, "The Raid 2" is an action lover's wet dream. Not only is it a rare sequel that surpasses the original film, flaws and all, it feels dangerous in ways that I haven't sensed since I discovered the films of John Woo, such as "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled." Destined for cult status, along with its predecessor, this movie is guaranteed to put Gareth Evans on people's radar as being one of the most proficient filmmakers working in the genre today. I can't wait to see what he'll cook up next.