More story-driven that its predecessor, The Raid 2 delivers some impressive action in a sprawling family crime saga that breaks more bones than new ground.
Riding on a wave of hype, The Raid (known as The Raid: Redemption in some territories) raised the bar in level-based filmmaking, stretching out a concept Bruce Lee died experimenting with in 1973’s Game of Death. Its phenomenal success, already glimpsed by writer/director Gareth Evans in his previous action hit Merantau, has led to a direct sequel. Perhaps responding directly to criticism that the first film was thin on plot but light on action, Evans injects his slick sequel with larger helpings of the former, but in no way loses sight of the primary reason people turn out to see his hero Rama (Iko Uwais) in action.
The Raid 2 (aka The Raid 2: Berandal) picks up almost immediately after the end of the first film, where police officer Rama fought his way through an apartment block in Jakarta’s slums to bring down a crime lord. Rama must go undercover, initially serving several years in prison, to befriend Uco (Arifin Putra), the son and successor to mob boss Bangun’s (Tio Pakusadewo) empire. In doing so, he must battle not only the reawakened rivalry with the Japanese gangs led by Goto (Kenichi Endo), but the corruption within his own police force.
From the beginning, Evans makes it clear that there will be a heavier emphasis on narrative in this entry, borrowing the loose structure of a Japanese yakuza film or more accurately, the “heroic bloodshed” films that rose to prominence in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s. Think somewhere between Takeshi Kitano and John Woo, and you’re in the right ballpark. It’s a familiar story of a son too keen to take over his father’s territory, and the betrayals and double-crossings that result from that ambition. The advantage of this simple structure is that it allows for the action to flow freely when it comes, and there is very little doubt that it will come, and do so with torrential force.
The action sequences, choreographed in unison with its stars, are inventive, stylish and often awe-inspiring. When the slow-building tension of a prison sequence pays off in a mud-splattered free-for-all, the tone is set for a film that sometimes requires a strong stomach, and even stronger armrests that will be threatened with knuckle-whitening clenching. While there is still a certain progression in the fights, partly recalling the episodic nature of the previous film, The Raid 2 measures them out with equally tense encounters between an accomplished cast of Indonesian and Japanese actors. There is an element of gimmickry to the fights, especially Julie Estelle’s “Hammer Girl” (guess what she fights with?), but it also breaks up the monotony of one fist-shaking encounter after the other. Indeed, it is hard not to elicit a chuckle on occasion, with Evans indulging in a little bit of dark humour that was keenly absent in the oh-so-serious The Raid.
The Raid 2 may not be a religious experience, or even make you pregnant as some of the publicity has claimed. It’s not the greatest action film in existence, nor is it even the best action film of the year. It is, however, an incredibly industrious martial arts film, with memorable combat. Evans has clearly taken on board some of the notes critics and fans threw out on the previous flick, and has made a conscious attempt at doing something different. It will be interesting to see where this franchise heads next, especially with an undoubtedly less bloodthirsty Hollywood remake waiting in the wings.
The Raid 2 is released in Australia on 28 March 2014 from Madman Films.