The Raid 2 (★★★)

raid-2Let me start by saying this right up front…it’s possible that The Raid 2 (initially called The Raid 2: Berandal, but that last bit has apparently been excised) is the most violent film that I’ve ever seen. Certainly outside of the horror genre, there’s a distinct possibility that this fact is true. For some of you, that might be akin to recommendation in and of itself, while for others it might be an immediate turn off. For me, I’m caught right smack in the middle. I was a fan of filmmaker Gareth Evans‘ prior movie The Raid: Redemption, and this sequel just ups the ante. For context, this is what I wrote in my review of the first flick: “An action film for those who think the modern action film is too talky, The Raid: Redemption is almost one long and sustained action sequence stretched out to feature length. The editing and pacing are terrific, and those who want intensity in their fight scenes will be thrilled, but if you’re looking for anything deeper or a story of any note, keep looking, as this isn’t the flick for you”. This time around, there are even more fights, even more graphic violence, and the stakes are even higher. Evans also attempts to inject a story here too, but he’s less successful in that endeavor. You can’t help but appreciate the directing skills on display in The Raid 2, but at a certain point, all of the fighting and killing nearly got to be too much for me. I’m recommending the film, but not in the same way as the last one.

Basically picking up moments after the last one ended, hero rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) figured that it was all over for him after surviving the high rise battle that claimed the lives of just about everyone else in the first movie. In no time though, he’s recruited to go undercover to root out the true corruption that’s ruining the city and the police force. After a bit of convincing, Rama agrees and is told to commit a specific crime so he’ll be sent to prison and catch the eye of Uko (Arifin Putra), the son of a crime lord. A few fights later, Rama, now using the fake identity of Yuda, is a low level enforcer in Uko’s father’s organization, basically keeping tabs on Uko, who in turn is plotting with rival gang leader Bejo (Alex Abbad) to become the top dog. From there, Rama must work to gather evidence and bring the whole enterprise down while avoiding being savagely killed or compromising his identity. There’s some contrived plot developments, but the notable moments are all of the fight scenes, and believe me, there are a lot of them. There’s also a pretty effective car chase, but by and large, it’s just Rama once again being forced to fight tons of people at once…rinse and repeat.

The_Raid_2_42094I kind of have to stand in awe of Iko Uwais, who really does yeoman’s work in a role that requires him to almost constantly be on the verge of death and in the midst of some insane stunts. It’s an exhausting performance and Uwais pulls it off with aplomb. I identified more with the character last time, but he’s still got some humanity here. A fairly interesting performance is given by Arifin Putra, who has matinee idol looks and could very well be headed to Hollywood soon (he actually looks a lot like James Deen from The Canyons, for what that’s worth). Putra gets to be pretty evil at times, and he relishes the opportunity. Also on hand we have the aforementioned Alex Abbad, who’s almost a cartoon villain at times, as well as Yayan Ruhian playing essentially a hobo hit man for hire. They all get their moments (unlike many of the other supporting players who mostly are on hand to eventually die), but in terms of a complete performance, Uwais is the only one who leaves a real impression.

From a pure filmmaking standpoint, writer/director Evans is like a kid in a candy store, finding as many new ways to display ultra violence as his imagination will allow. I just wish his screenplay skills were on par with his talents as a director and fight choreographer. He’s a skilled editor as well, and that helps to make the fight sequences even more impressive, notably the car chase I mentioned earlier, a prison riot scene, and a fight to the death in a kitchen, not to mention a particular character who has an affinity for using a baseball bat and ball for his kills (followed closely behind by a female character who loves wielding a pair of hammers). Still, Evans struggles to lead you from beginning to end without some level of fatigue setting in. At two and a half hours long, the movie is way too long and repetition becomes a factor about midway through. Everything is bigger here in this sequel, but not necessarily better, I must say.

Overall, The Raid 2 is just creative enough to be worth a recommendation, but it lacks the originality of the first flick. This is now a full fledged franchise and I’ll certainly be seeing the third film, but I really hope that Evans flees some new filmmaking muscles there. With a more compelling story and a better sense of pacing, he could recapture the gleeful insanity of The Raid: Redemption. As it stands, The Raid 2 will delight genre fans, but might not impress to many others.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!