The Raid: Redemption was a wonderfully nasty little action movie that came out of nowhere to tickle the shrivelled hearts of fans of blood soaked entertainment in 2011. The instant cult classic was a perfectly structured bit of B-movie bliss. A few minutes of set up, followed by 90 minutes of exquisitely crafted carnage that mixed and mashed all the best elements of vintage John Carpenter, vintage Jackie Chan, Ong Bak, Die Hard, and a few dozen other action classics that clearly played on a loop in Wales-transplant writer/director Gareth Evans’ brain while he created a new genre classic in Indonesia. Before his breakout film was released, Evans cleverly sold off the remake rights specifically to finance a sequel. That money went along way in Indonesia and now he’s returned with a sequel that ramps up a claustrophobic caper into a full on crime epic. Given that brevity and a deliberately small scale played such a large role in the original flick’s success, The Raid 2’s narrative excess is particularly evident. Yet, there’s also no denying that it boasts some of the most visceral action sequences ever caught on film. With this genre, that goes a long way.
There’s been a lot of hype about how The Raid 2 opens two hours after the end of the original film, but those expecting a direct continuation have gotten the ol’ bait n’ switch. Sure, Evans picks things up immediately, but only to kill off every single surviving character other than star/fight choreographer/honest cop Iko Uwais so that he can be sent on a brand-spanking new adventure. A confusingly chronology-bending first act sends him into prison to infiltrate the city’s top crime family undercover a la The Departed (and Infernal Affairs and many others). There’s a big, muddy, gruesome prison fight scene in the middle, shot in remarkable single takes to keep the target ADD audience in check, but really Evans has only started winding up the narrative. Once Uwais is released, we’re introduced to a wide cast of local crime heavies who are then weaved into a complex narrative knot of double-crossing, betrayal, and murder. Evans is clearly aiming for a crime epic along the lines of Heat and does a decent job. The trouble is that those ambitions don’t necessarily play into either the filmmaker or his franchise’s strengths. Thankfully, he also creates a number of comically ramped up crime movie types for Uwais to battle in what amounts to an hour-long action climax staged across an entire city. There’s an evil crime lord with a comb over and a cane (Alex Abbad), an overambitious/psychotic son of another crime lord (Arfin Putra), and a collection of hard fighting sidekicks, most memorably the hilarious duo of Baseball Boy and Hammer Girl (named after their weapons of choice).
The plot can stop n’ start with irritating awkwardness, but it’s capably written and wonderfully acted. However, beyond expanding the running time to an ill-conceived 2.5 hours, it doesn’t add much. The real heart of the movie lies in the set pieces and much like The Raid they are mind-meltingly spectacular. Evans’ directorial genius lies in knowing how to expertly shoot and craft a fight scene to rival the finest martial arts epics, but without ever stylizing the fights to the point of feeling like a Crouching Tiger dance. The indigenous Indonesian fight style used depends on full contact and along with some added gore, the fight scenes offer the relatable pain and gleefully splattered blood of a horror flick. Only a few movies into his career, Evans has made a name for himself as one of the current masters of the genre and he fills The Raid 2 with the greatest action scenes you’ll see all year. Part of the reason why it’s so thrilling is that no two action scenes feel alike. There’s a filthy prison brawl, a heart-poundingly dangerous car chase, a kitchen showdown that uses all possible tools for impalement, and a few morbidly hilarious slapstick showdowns involving the aforementioned baseball/hammer duo (who really deserve a spin off movie right now).
Each and every one of those action scenes (and others) are so brilliantly conceived and expertly executed that any problems with narrative overload are easily forgiven. It’s the type of movie that will force packed movie houses to explode with laughter and applause even if viewers aren’t normally inclined to react to movies vocally. The set pieces are just that good and in a nice blast from the past are all executed physically through mixture of masterful choreography and an almost reckless disregard for physical safety that would never happen in Hollywood. Gareth Evans has already proven himself to be so gosh darn good at genre filmmaking that a Hollywood pilgrimage is inevitable and deserved (he will have his own superhero franchise within the next 5 years, guaranteed). However, hopefully that won’t move the filmmaker out of Indonesia permanently. The guy has created an astounding little action movie factory there that only just seems to be hitting its stride. It would be a real shame to bust up the party early.