Every so often, a new director comes along, takes a film genre mired in stagnant and uninspired repetition and completely revolutionises it. In the 1980’s, John Woo energised the action genre with his heroic bloodshed gunplay movies. In 2011, Gareth Evans did it with The Raid, an explosive martial arts film that made every Hollywood action movie look like a shoving match between two preschoolers. Now, Evans and his team have returned to once again show everyone how action should be filmed. And boy, does he deliver. My review of The Raid 2 after the jump.
Beginning almost immediately after the events of the first film, The Raid 2 follows Rama (Iko Uwais) as he reluctantly goes undercover in an Indonesian prison in order to befriend Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), one of Jakarta’s most powerful criminal patriarchs. In doing so, Rama and his superior, Bunawar (Cok Simbara), hope to weed out the key corrupt cops who have helped Bangun and the Gotos, a rival Japanese clan, maintain their iron grip on Jakarta. Complicating matters is Bejo (Alex Abbad), a cunning new player in the Indonesian underworld hungry to carve himself a slice of the action.
Thankfully, Gareth Evans decided to expand the world introduced in The Raid beyond the confines of a single apartment block, making his latest action opus about the crime that has engulfed an entire city. The result is a two-and-a-half hour epic crime story more like Heat orThe Dark Knight than Assault on Precinct 13. Yes, the film lacks the efficiency and simplicity of the first installment but on the other hand, there is now more at stake and the more expansive format feels like a logical progression.
That isn’t to say that this format is a complete success. Initial scenes are confusing as we struggle to keep track of the many new players. Also, the film spends much of its running time following the exploits of Uco, the petulant heir to the Bangun criminal empire. The gangster movie elements have been done before but they are fascinating nonetheless and are so well acted that it doesn’t matter. Arifin Putra as Uco is excellent. He exudes a cool sense of entitlement and sadism, an intense moment where he berates his father for not standing up to the Gotos is probably the finest piece of acting in the series thus far. However, this comes at the expense of Rama, the main character. Like Christian Bale in The Dark Knight, Rama at times feels like a supporting player in his own movie.
That is, until the action kicks in. The Raid 2 takes the revolutionary, jaw dropping fights from the first film and, in most cases, surpasses them. This movie is possibly the most exciting martial arts film I’ve ever seen, with one astounding scene after another. Fight scenes are regularly interspersed throughout the film along with the more dramatic moments, until the final 40 minutes in which the action completely takes over. With every savage, expertly timed blow, the rage and desperation felt by the outnumbered and increasingly exhausted Rama is palpable
Director Gareth Evans ensures that the film is a frequently gorgeous one. His lush cinematography captures, among other things, rich, vividly lit restaurants and karaoke bars (recalling Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives) and a grim, empty field (evoking Martin Scorsese’s Casino). Simply, no-one working today films action quite like Evans. His takes are long and his handheld camera work is frenetic yet precise, allowing us the best possible view of the stunning choreography on display. Also, the shots are flashy enough to impress. Note the subtle camera tilt to a Dutch angle and the skillful use of tension-raising editing as Rama braces himself for the movie’s first fight.
After two viewings, I feel comfortable in saying that The Raid 2 almost completely surmounts its impressive and game-changing predecessor. It’s a vicious orgy of carnage that successfully fuses a detailed gangster plot with some of the most relentless and crisply filmed fight sequences ever captured. Though these two elements don’t always gel convincingly and a frustratingly open-ended final scene makes the wait for an inevitable third installment nigh on unbearable, The Raid 2 manages to render an entire genre of films unwatchable due to it being completely superior to all of its peers. If that’s not enough reason to go and see this gem, I don’t know what is.
By Johnson Hii
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer(s): Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
Runtime: 150 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: March 27 2014; USA: March 28 2014