Following the execution of his brother, officer Rama is recruited to go deep cover in the Indonesian underworld to take down the mob and bring his brother’s killers to justice.
In these sad times where all too few martial arts films of any real credit are released, it was with much excitement that The Raid hit the scene, a film so streamlined in narrative and visceral in martial arts action that almost everyone who saw it was swept off and blown away for its brisk running time.
Starring the immensely talented Iko Uwais, The Raid was a product of the Indonesian film industry for all but its writer/director, Welshman Gareth Evans. Being the only one of it’s kind at the time and easily one of the all time greats to boot, it kind of took the world by storm, but rather than making the move to The States right away, Evans instead opted to stay in Indonesia where he’d have more creative freedom, to produce a sequel to The Raid, a film that everyone wants but has some massive shoes to fill.
Right up front it’s obvious that The Raid 2 is a totally different animal than its predecessor; as mentioned, half the draw of The Raid was its strikingly straightforward plot, which was of stark contrast to the often overly complicated plots of many of today’s action blockbusters. This was probably to draw more attention the remarkable action, but now that we’re aware of what sort of action we’re in for, how do you set the sequel apart?
It seems Evans’s answer to this question is to put his own talents at the centre of this film, crafting a much more complex story and putting a huge amount of effort into the visual direction.
A complex plot actually seems besides the point and more than a little at odds with what we wanted from a sequel, but it seems Evans knows what he likes, and what he likes is twisty and compelling Asian gangster flicks in the vain of Infernal Affairs and A Bittersweet Life, in fact he likes them so much that the film practically wears its influences on its sleeve. To its credit The Raid 2 is right up there with the best of Asian gangster films, it’s kind of hard to follow at times but with a story that involves a cop going deep cover and playing gangs against each other that’s kind of par for the course, unfortunately to add extended action scenes to this story creates two contrasting sides to the film that don’t always mesh well and bloat the running time to a whopping two and a half hours, much too long for any film that sells itself as an action extravaganza. Having said that, the pace IS well structured so it doesn’t actually feel overly long.
It often feels that this is a Raid sequel in name only, and while it makes sense from a commercial point of view I tend to think that if this film worked as an independent entity it might have combated some of the disappointment that may come from it being such at odds with the first film. It would also have shaved at least twenty minutes off the front end, which takes far too long getting from the position we’re left with at the end of the first instalment to where it has to be for this sequel to gain traction.
As a director Evans here fancies himself cut from the same cloth as Martine Scorsese and Alfonso Cuarón, delivering many scenes of tricky complexity that often defy detection of edit points. It’s really incredibly impressive, especially at the (relatively) sparse budget he must have been working with. A rumble in a muddy prison yard is so well thought out and executed that it beggars belief and can easily stand toe to toe with some of the more seamless scenes of Cuarón’s Children of Men and Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Sure there are a few rough directorial edges but don’t be fooled, this guys is going places and I’d be very surprised if he sticks with the action genre.
Despite all that, you’re really not going to see this film for anything but the combat, right?! So, you’ll be happy to learn that the action is predictably stunning; not as trailblazing as the first film, because we’ve seen it all before and know what to expect, but it’s just as hard hitting and possibly even more brutal as the story progresses. It has to be said that initially some of the action is a little disappointing, but as mentioned this is because Evans is working hard to make the visual direction and action a symbiotic whole, and as a payoff for sequences the likes of which have never been attempted the action feels a little less hard hitting and a little more rehearsed.
Come the second act though there is a concerted effort to outdo the first film is sheer blunt force trauma, and to achieve this two characters are introduced who are little more than extensions of their weapons of choice. This brother/sister combo sport an aluminium bat and twin claw hammers, respectively, and indulge in fight sequences so devastating that you find yourself contorting your face in utter disgust/delight…
Iko, of course, takes care of business and doesn’t disappoint in either the action or acting stakes.
Potentially disappointing to some fans of the first film, The Raid 2 is a taught gangster flick that can stand up to the best of them. It’s overly long but skips by at a good pace and becomes invigorating when the violence kicks into overdrive and is in the unique position to be an martial arts film that is more noticeable for its direction than its action.
B- grade – for storytelling
A- grade – for direction
A- grade – for action
C+ grade – for acting
Overall grade – B