In 2011 writer/director Gareth Evans and actor Iko Uwais made their presence known to the martial arts film community with an Indonesian feature known in the US as The Raid: Redemption. The movie starred Uwais as Rama, one of 20 police officers charged with storming an tenement building with the express purpose of taking down crime boss Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). The picture plays out like a standard video game, complete with mini bosses and perfunctory cutscenes, but the fight scenes were so kinetic and exciting that The Raid instantly became one of the better entries in the genre. Evans and Uwais finally return on Friday with The Raid 2. I recommend watching the previous film first, so you can get a sense of what you are in for. And then get blown a-fucking-way by what you end up seeing in your local theater this weekend.
I wrote a couple pages of notes while watching The Raid 2, mostly focused on technical aspects of the movie that did or did not work, but I am going to set those notes aside for a minute. This movie is fucking crazy. I try to limit my cursing on this blog, as I am pretending to be a professional when I write these, but The Raid 2 deserves every fucking “fuck” in the book. This may be the most violent movie I have ever had occasion to witness. It is also one of the most exciting. This is the type of movie that plastered this look on my face every time two characters started beating the shit out of each other:
That picture doesn’t even do the facial expression justice. I can’t replicate it. Needless to say, this movie elicited one of the most visceral reactions in recent memory; 12 Years a Slave got some real emotion out of me, but that’s an entirely different story. I laughed uproariously at this movie. I cringed a lot. I applauded and cheered. And I loved every goddamn minute of it.
This movie will not be for everyone. When I say it is violent I am not fucking around. The untold deaths of Indonesian stuntmen that must have resulted from this production will probably haunt the Welsh auteur and his martial artist muse for the rest of their lives. But every hypothetical senseless death will have been worth it. If you have the tolerance for violence and gore, you would be doing yourself a disservice by skipping The Raid 2.
Okay, I’ve vented a little. Let me take a second to go over some of my thoughts on the actual quality of the film. First of all, it is long. Two and a half hours long. And while it starts with a bang, declaring itself as independent from its predecessor, the first half of the movie kind of drags. Don’t get me wrong, there are excellent fight scenes in this first half, in locations as varied as a bathroom stall, a prison yard, a low-rent porn studio, a city street, a nightclub, but between these amazing sequences are longer stretches of plot. The best part about these scenes is that they gave me great opportunities to jot down my thoughts.
Plot was not the strongest aspect of the original Raid; there was barely any, in fact. But in The Raid 2 we get perhaps too much in the way of story. This thing feels epic. Evans provides us with a sweeping view of organized crime in Indonesia, greatly upping the ante from the first movie as Rama goes undercover to root out the rampant corruption in the police force. The politics of crime families is kind of interesting, but it is a subject that has seen a lot of coverage over the course of cinematic history, and the translation to a different country alone does not make it fresh. Making things even harder to follow is the fact that there are about ten important characters we are supposed to keep track of at all times, and while some of them get interesting development, others are characterized simply by their weapon of choice. Rama disappears almost completely for about 45 minutes in the middle of the movie, but it is to the movie’s credit that I did not notice immediately; the fight scenes were just that good.
Christ, were they good! At about the halfway mark all hell breaks loose and the movie basically becomes one big fight for the remainder of the runtime. The action takes over, and the first half of the film is almost entirely forgotten in favor of the parade of leg-breaks and blood-spurts that we are confronted with. Every fight in the movie is choreographed impeccably, down to the camera angles, which only get shaky when appropriate. Evans even composes some beautiful shots for the quieter moments. The movie looks great, which makes all of the violence even more effective.
The Raid 2 has plenty of flaws, but it is so exciting that I am more than willing to overlook them, at least after my first viewing. It is early goings, but at this point The Raid 2 is on my shortlist of the best movies of 2014. If you think you can handle it, you must go out and see it. Maybe if everyone sees it this weekend then Evans will start working on The Raid 3 immediately. That would be fucking cool.