VOD film review: The Raid 2
James R | On 05, Aug 2014
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais
The Raid 2 is not the greatest action movie of all time. It’s not even as good as The Raid.
Gareth Evans blew people away in 2011 with his stripped-down action masterpiece. His sequel is bigger, bolder and longer – by a whole 50 minutes. As a result, it loses some of its punch.
The Raid 2 follows on directly from The Raid, as honest cop Rama goes undercover with the Jakarta mob, trying to wipe out the corruption within the force. He finds himself under the wing of boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), watched by his second-hand man, Eka (Oka Antara), and asked to watch his ambitious son, Uco (Arifin Putra). But when a young upstart, Beko, decides to take his own piece of the criminal pie, the truce between the Bangun family and their Japanese rivals, led by Goto (Kenichi End), starts to look very shaky.
Confused yet? There’s a reason for that: The Raid 2 stuffs its script so full of people that it becomes hard to keep up. A disobedient heir and a psychotic fresh face? These are stock figures who are easy to follow – and easy to predict – but there’s a point halfway through where the walking stereotypes start swapping names and you realise you don’t know who they’re talking about. That shouldn’t happen in any film, let alone a sequel to a film that made its name through sheer simplicity.
That’s not to say the action isn’t breathtaking. It is. Edwards relishes being free of the original’s tower block – but, crucially, doesn’t lose a sense of his surroundings. Chairs, tables, handrails on public transport; Iko Uwais’ astounding choreography uses the varied locations to unleash a barrage of versatile violence. A muddy prison yard becomes a swamp to navigate with a broom handle, while a drugs factory is the setting for a shootout worthy of Johnnie To.
Evans’ camera is just as agile, diving through windows next to the actors and slamming into walls. The director is smart enough to shoot everything wide to showcase that link between pummels and place; a context-driven style of combat that, conversely, makes every blow feel closer. The orchestrated pandemonium reaches dizzying heights in the central set piece, which redefines what an action movie can do with a vehicle: The Raid 2 doesn’t have a car chase. It has a fight that takes place while people are in a car chase.
That audacity of stacking limbs, people and the nearest available object on top of each other like a sadistic game of Jenga delivers knock-out blows all over the shop – a shop where the only thing for sale is blood. After watching The Raid, you were amazed by Gareth Evans’ knowledge of the many different ways you could kill a man. After watching The Raid 2, you’re just kind of worried.
But more isn’t always more. The Raid 2’s attempts to become a sweeping crime epic, a la Woo or Mann, are honourable but feel more bloated than bold. Putra and Abbad have some fun with the hammy dialogue, but the emotional kick needed to keep you hooked lands wide of the jugular; The Raid traded in genre types as an excuse for a punch-up. The Raid 2 expects us to care about these stock characters, winding up with what feels like a two-and-a-half-hour soap opera. As cheese faintly wafts through the straight-faced melodrama, you end up counting the seconds until the next fight scenes arrive to drown the fromage in the red stuff.
By the time it escalates to a fisticuffs finale – as video-game-like tradition dictates it must – that determination to top what’s gone before spills into the guts, turning what was once hard-hitting into almost cartoon violence.
As heads start to explode, for the first time in the franchise you step back from the carnage. Are we meant to be laughing at this? Shocked by it? Cheering it on? It seems strange to consider that The Raid 2 might be too violent – especially when so much of it is so inventive. The Raid 2 is either laudably ambivalent towards its on-screen assaults, or unintentionally gives your brain enough time to wander away from the visceral thrills at hand. Regardless, there’s certainly too much of it.
You could argue that the oedipal conflicts and city-wide scale don’t matter: that the important thing is the action, not the scenes in between. But if that’s the case, why include them at all? That’s what made The Raid so audacious; it was clever enough to realise you could deliver the blows and skip the build-up. In trying to be more complex, The Raid 2 ends up feeling less intelligent.
The Raid 2 has some great action – but that doesn’t mean it’s the greatest action movie of all time.