The Raid 2 (2014)
By: Stuart Giesel on April 1, 2014 | Comments
The Raid 2 Australian Poster
Director: Gareth Evans
Starring:: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Julie Estelle, Donny Alamsyah, Oka Antara, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusodewo
Screnplay: Gareth Evans
Country: Indonesia
The Raid could not have come at a more perfect time for action movie fans. Action maestro John Woo had retreated back to China after a few duds in the US, content to make epics in the style of Hero. Martial arts legends Jet Li and Jackie Chan had their best work behind them, Donny Yen was still going under-appreciated by the mainstream masses, once-reliable action stars of the 80's (Stallone, Schwarzenegger) were trying to return to the silver screen with mixed results, Hollywood was churning out terrible additions to once-revered franchises (hello, Die Hard) and fucking things up with unnecessary CGI. Then Gareth Evans' Indonesian martial arts film The Raid hit cinemas, reminding people in big gory letters that THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE AN ACTION FILM. The Raid truly felt like a breath of fresh, bloodthirsty air. And now we have the sequel to once again remind wannabe-action directors how to do things properly. If The Raid was a kick to the groin for action movie fans, then The Raid 2 is the kick to the groin, followed by a swift torso stab before finishing off with a throat rip.

Set immediately after the events of the first film, The Raid 2 sees rookie Jakartan police officer Rama (Iko Uwais) trying to fix his life after battling out of the high-rise, hoping to return to his wife and newly born child. However he and his family have become marked, and the only salvation is for Rama to join a small elite task force headed by Bunawar (Cok Simbara) to stop police corruption. Going undercover in prison, Rama tries to work his way into the gang of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) via his son, Uco (Arifin Putra). Bangun's gang is presently at peace with their main competition, the Japanese rival gang headed by Goto (Kenichi Endo, who looks like a Japanese Steve Buscemi). However, an up-and-coming criminal named Bejo (Alex Abbad) has plans for creating war between the two gangs using the hot-tempered and impatient Uco against his father. Rama finds himself in the middle of this simmering tension, whilst their skilled enforcers - Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian, who memorably played Mad Dog in The Raid) on Bangun's side, and the memorable brother-sister team of "Baseball Bat Guy" (Very Tri Yulisman) and "Hammer Girl" (Julie Estelle) wait in the sidelines, ready to create bloody mayhem.

If all that sounds a little convoluted, then you've probably identified The Raid 2's biggest shortcoming. The beauty of the original was its simplicity - a police unit is sent into a drug den to flush out the crime boss, and they have to fight their way up to the top floor. Now sit back and watch the blood. There was precious little fat in The Raid's script, and as a result the action scenes truly shone. Not only that, but the atmosphere it created was truly spectacular. But there's so much going on in The Raid 2, and so many characters, that the experience has become bloated. Instead of a streamlined action film, The Raid 2 has gone the way of Heat and The Dark Knight, crime films that embraced a large canvas and an equally large cast, but unfortunately for writer/director/editor Evans the story isn't as compelling as either of those two films. There are moments when Rama is lost within his own story, and we get needless diversions with characters we don't especially care about. Now, you may argue that it's impossible for Evans to capture lightning in a bottle again, that the reason The Raid felt so fresh and this one doesn't as much was because The Raid was absolutely bloody fresh. Sure, you'll get no argument from me. And don't get me wrong - The Raid 2 is still mostly riveting, but there are times when you're just tapping your fingers waiting for the next amazing action scene to come along. Hopefully you don't mind a lot of subtitles in your films.

But when the action starts - well, you'd better believe this is a bigger, bolder, bloodier effort than The Raid, if the Aussie R18+ rating hadn't already tipped you off. This is easily the most violent action film since Sylvester Stallone last reprised his iconic John Rambo role. Nothing is spared in this no-holds-barred slaughter-fest: we get broken limbs, slit throats and stabbings, hammer claws through flesh and bone, baseball bashings, shotgun blasts to the head and countless other ways to inflict pain on the characters. It truly is an astonishing, almost exhausting, procession of carnage. The blood and gore for the most part seems, thankfully, CGI-free, so you truly feel every act of violence, and there are a few moments that are sure to make even the most hardened action junkie wince with empathy. Yes, the universe of The Raid 2 is populated by characters who don't use guns, but rather any blunt or sharp hand-held object that comes to hand, be it wine bottles or lead pipes or, yes, claw hammers. This approach provides predictable yet entertaining results. As he proved with The Raid, Gareth Evans is a director who not only knows how to shoot an amazing action scene, but is also equally adept at setting the scene and letting the tension grow beforehand - for Evans, the anticipation of the fight scene is almost as important as the fight scene itself. Evans, Uwais, the stunt team and all actors/fighters involved have set new standards for action in The Raid 2's half-dozen or so fight scenes. Each fight scene is innovative, interesting, dazzlingly-edited and almost unlike the one that preceded it. On top of that, there's a car chase that's as thrilling and involving as any you're ever likely to have seen. Evans is able to ensure that although the action is chaotic, we never lose sight of who's fighting who or get swallowed up by incomprehensible staging. Everything's in its proper place, the camerawork so fluid and dizzying that at one point - mirroring a scene in John Woo's Hard-Boiled - it follows a bad guy through a glass window into the corridor beyond, echoing his exact movements so we end up on our sides. And for those who thought you couldn't top the final fight scene in The Raid, you'll be reconsidering your position after seeing this film. It looks like all that hard work has paid off - basically, there are moments in The Raid 2 as astonishing as you're ever likely to have seen in an action film.

The new characters are mostly uninteresting, given that we're in bog-standard gangster territory that you're likely to have seen a dozen times before in any Takeshi Kitano, John Woo or Johnnie To film. The exceptions are the three enforcers, Prakoso, Baseball Bat Guy and Hammer Girl, as well as the conflicted, power-hungry Uco who has longed for his chance to shine in his father's organisation but never given the chance. Pretty-boy Putra, as Uco, is given a meaty role here, but it's unfortunate we don't see more of the enforcers. Yayan Ruhian, as Bangun's enforcer Prakoso looks so similar to The Raid's Mad Dog that you might think that they're meant to be brothers, or even that Mad Dog somehow came back from the grave. Once again he proves his martial arts prowess in a couple of skillfully-choreographed fight scenes. Baseball Bat Guy and Hammer Girl are the two most interesting new characters, but unfortunately they're not developed beyond their namesake-gimmicks, although when you think about it maybe that's for the best, in that it keeps their characters enigmatic.

Ah, Hammer Girl. We'll always have the train.

Ultimately, however, The Raid 2's expanse has meant that there's far more padding than had ever occurred in The Raid. Some viewers will appreciate the fact that this is no mere copycat movie, that Evans has broadened the scope of the first film and, in doing so, has given us some creative new locations in which to stage its superlative action. Others will undoubtedly prefer the brutal simplicity of the original, which favoured silence and tension over talk. Personally, I believe The Raid 2, running at around 150 minutes, is at least twenty minutes too long. Admittedly, when you've just been launched into the middle of another peerless fight scene, all thoughts of the film's length are suddenly jettisoned.

However you look at it, The Raid 2 is the best action film you're likely to see this year. The unflinching amount of brutality it unleashes on the audience means it's not going to appeal to even those viewers with a moderate appreciation of Hollywood actioners. This is hardcore action, combining the athleticism of Jackie Chan or Tony Jaa with the visual flamboyance of John Woo and the hardcore violence of Paul Verhoeven or Takashi Miike. Overlong and overstuffed it may be, but when it comes to delivering the goods, Evans and his crew have once again proven they have no equals. Go into The Raid 2 expecting far less of the "Die Hard-ish cop in one location" original and more of a crime saga like Heat but with a shitload more baseball bats to the face, and you'll love it.

Movie Score
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