If kicks to the face were notes of an opera, director Gareth Evans’ sprawling action film The Raid 2 would be a blood-soaked “Don Giovanni.”
As a follow-up to the 2011 Indonesian martial arts hit The Raid: Redemption, Evans has created a sprawling gangster epic. The film has aspirations of being like The Godfather while delivering devastating, jaw-dropping action sequences that leave other modern action movies in the dust. The narrative may leave something to be wanted, but the fight scenes are unmatched in modern film.
Starting minutes after the end of the first installment, surviving hero Rama (Iko Uwais) is drawn deep undercover in the criminal world to bring down the police corruption that threatens his family and the entire city. Getting arrested to get close with the son of a major mobster, Rama slowly works his way into the criminal underworld, only to be drawn into spectacular fights with a host of colorful criminals along the way.
First things first, you do not need to have seen the first film to see The Raid 2. The connections are tenuous at best. For the uninitiated, the first movie revolved around a police squad battling up through a criminal-controlled apartment building to capture or kill the mob boss at the very top. It’s a plot that was soon used by the sci-fi comic book movie Dredd, but The Raid delivered far greater thrills and eye-popping action scenes. While the events of the film propel Rama into the narrative of the sequel, every lingering plot point is dropped within minutes and rendered irrelevant to this movie.
Running at more than two and a half hours long, The Raid 2 is much more interested in crafting a complex crime narrative than its slam-bang predecessor. Director/writer Evans has created a much more interesting story, but the real reason for the existence of the film is the insane assortment of clashes that are peppered throughout. While Evans thankfully eases back on the throttle at various times to avoid wearing the audience out, the narrative mostly exists to get us from one fight to the next. While it’s interesting enough, it isn’t much in the way of originality. Double-crosses, blind ambition, mysterious assassins, and more clichés are all here, ringing of stronger films like The Departed, Heat, and Get Carter.
The narrative also splits its time between Rama and Uco (Arifin Putra) the son of a crime lord with big ambitions and a big enough ego to match. While Putra does a fine job, Uco is a character we’ve seen plenty of times before. Rama is far more interesting – a devastating fighter with a good heart. Iwais creates a compelling character that is half mortal, half superhuman fighter whose emotions are on full display in each conflict. We want more of him but are sometimes forced to watch less interesting fare focused on Uco.
But let’s get to those fights. That’s what we all came for anyway.
Evans and Uwais have created heart-pounding action sequences that scratch every possible itch that you could have coming into this feature. From the very first confrontation, a claustrophobic one-against-20 brawl in a tiny bathroom stall, you know you are in for some of the most intense battles you’ve ever seen in cinema. Importantly, everything on display is real. There’s no CGI except for a few added spurts of blood and there seems to be no wires used. This is old school martial arts fighting translated into a modern non-stop action sensibility.
Like the first film, Evans focuses on the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat, a brutal and natural fighting style that maintains a realistic feel while still staying flashy. Evans and Uwais craft choreography that is incredibly impressive. It’s obvious that vast amounts of time have gone into creating the many battles of The Raid 2, but they keep the polish off. The battles feel raw and real here. Fighters may often take on hordes of nameless goons in warehouses of ill repute, but the only suspension of disbelief needed for viewers is the fact that these legions of hardened criminals are woefully short on firearms. This is a world where thugs prefer complex martial arts, knives, and batons over gats and glocks.
The Raid 2 is also distinguished from other modern action movies and even classic martial arts films by its unflinching violence. Bones are broken, bodies are slashed, and heads are knocked silly. This is not an action movie for the faint of heart, with even the coolest action scenes featuring shots that will make the toughest viewers wince. However, this adds to the stakes of each fight scene. While Rama is a seemingly unbeatable battler, he’s put through the ringer, suffering deep slices and organ-busting blows that would put down the toughest ‘80s action hero.
Among the many standout fights, several deserve to be called out for their preeminent awesomeness. The muddy prison riot near the beginning of the film is an exercise is tension, as Rama struggles to keep Uco alive, slipping and sliding in the muck while fighting shiv-wielding prisoners and baton-swinging guards. Mad Prakoso, a homeless assassin, engages in one of the most animalistic brawls seen on screen against a horde of machete-carrying thugs in a nightclub and a snowy alleyway. It’s jaw-dropping for both its choreography and the unflinching brutality on display.
Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man in particular are memorable among the throng. As their names suggest, they are assassins with an affinity for using the mundane as their weapons. Together, they feature in several brutal and unique fights that add to the memorable nature of The Raid 2. While they are not much more than colorful opponents, they are a nice change of pace from the more run-of-the-mill crooks that Rama ploughs through.
Finally, Rama engages in an extended one-on-one battle against his equal, an assassin who’s just as skilled with his fists as he is with a pair of claw-like karambit daggers. Their melee trashes a starkly-lit high-class kitchen and a wine cellar filled with bottles just waiting to be turned into weapons. It’s the highlight of the film because of its unending inventiveness and a self-contained narrative structure. Fists and feet become their own characters as these two martial arts masters beat each other until they can’t move their limbs.
While the story won’t leave you in awe of its screenplay, The Raid 2 is an action film that will burn itself into your brain for the mesmerizing action on display.