Let me start by describing a scene in ‘The Raid 2’. A woman pulls two claw hammers out of her trench coat on a packed subway car; she and those hammers work their way through a brigade of bodyguards. This scene gave me an indescribable rush; it was pure sensation. For a moment, I thought a lot of moviegoers are going to be turned off by the film’s ultra-violence; but that didn’t upset me. My jaw dropped; “Holy shit!” I exclaimed. After Hammer Girl, I met Baseball Boy, and then realized that the train scene was only one of a dozen equally impressive action sequences.
Yes, ‘The Raid 2’ (a.k.a. Indonesian ‘Game of Thrones’) is awesome! And this is coming from the guy who gave ‘The Raid: Redemption’ 1 out of 4 stars in 2012. Thankfully, you don’t need to see the original to see the sequel; this one brings you up to speed within the first twelve minutes.
The cop who miraculously but somewhat ridiculously survived the very violent events of ‘The Raid’ gets a new assignment – he has to go undercover in prison to cosy up to the son of a crime kingpin so he can eventually get into the organization. He does that very thing but, of course, it gets way more complicated, and things become way more violent. Oh, and it is very good!
This could be the most spectacular upgrade in movie franchise history (though ‘The Fast & Furious’ series comes close). The Raid: Redemption’ was non-stop mayhem with almost no plot or characterization to accompany the ultra-violence. The premise was this – policeman must kill all the criminal underlings in an apartment building to get to the kingpin in the penthouse. That is a standard video-game setup, and the movie played out like one. Also, to this day, no one can explain to me why it’s subtitled ‘Redemption’.
In this well-paced sequel, however, there is plot, characters, intrigue, and an opportunity to get involved in figuring out what the allegiances are and who could be trusted and who is going to overturn what crime lord. Writer-director Gareth Evans is painting on a wider canvas. He reunites with Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, but they’ve moved from the claustrophobic confines of that high-rise building in the first picture to the entire city of Jakarta. The expanded scope allows for more focus on character and plot, but the film has a great sense of momentum, with one violent confrontation leading to another and another and another. I, for one, do not mind a little bit of dramatic downtime between outbreaks of ultra-violence. You know that double-crosses are coming but you don’t in any way know who’s going to be double-crossing whom. A colleague informed me that the sequel’s plot was what Mr. Evans had intended for the original picture. Maybe he needed to warm up first. The first is a generic exercise. The sequel pulls no punches. Literally.
If the plot merely exists to provide a substructure for these ever-escalating fight sequences, so be it. Because, Oh my God, when they start fighting, well, there’s just a lot of oh-em-gee in this movie. To the less cinematically inclined – those who think they’ve seen it all in 2014 watch ‘The Raid 2’ and then we’ll talk. I could care less for violent action pictures; but with such dazzlingly stylized visual flourishes (classic wide-angle shots, assured handheld camera-work, the creepy broken guitar sounds that accompany the subway which is intercut with two other attacks), every confrontation feels substantial and there is a heightened sense of danger. There’s no CGI to speak of; it’s purely physical. My favourite shot: in the middle of a battle, the camera moves to a silent, snow-covered alley. It looks very pure. That is until a very bloody conflict erupts.
Just when you think the movie has reached its peak in terms of its ultra-violent material, it manages to surprise us by incrementally raising the stakes until we reach the breathtaking, and exhausting climax (which is spectacular, even by the standards established previously in this movie). After watching this movie, you will feel as though you have been in combat.
‘The Raid 2’ could be the most violent film I’ve ever seen. I love that a picture this blood-soaked managed to secure the same MPAA rating as ‘Nebraska’. Cray. This 3.5/4 star rating needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Obviously, I say “See It” but with the caveat that you don’t sue me for the recommendation. This picture is designed with a specific audience in mind. Several conservative moviegoers stormed out of the screening I attended during the film’s brutal final act. As I watched these George R.R. Martin-worthy supply of characters get knocked down one by one, it occurred to me that Tarantino’s recent masterwork ‘Django Unchained’ feels like ‘Sesame Street’ in comparison.
Mr. Evans has noted that his cinematic inspirations are ‘The Departed’, ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’, ‘The Godfather’, and ‘Once Upon a Time in America’. ‘The Raid 2’ combines elements of gangster films, westerns, and martial arts movies for the midnight madness audience. Hollywood is going to have their eyes on Mr. Evans – if he ever does make a film on this side of the globe, I hope he doesn’t hold back. He’s not meant to shoot PG-13 action. QED.