While it may be reasonable to ask what our enjoyment of viciously violent movies says about us (and whether we might be harming our souls by watching them), it’s hard to imagine anyone being left unimpressed by the sheer ingenuity of Welsh director Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2, the inevitable sequel to his similarly beautiful, similarly savage but far lower budget 2011 film The Raid: Redemption.
If you saw Evans’ previous film then you know all you need to about whether this one is your cup of tea. Though this is a more ambitious film, it offers the same sort of kinetic pleasures and visceral jolts. The plot of this Indonesian actioner is pretty dispensable (I know for a fact that the film can be enjoyed by an English-speaking audience without the benefit of subtitles), but it basically picks up where the last movie ended, with the hero cop Rama (penkat silat champion Iko Uwais) going undercover in prison to win the confidence of Ucok (Arifin Putra), a mob boss’ son.
This he does by subduing literally hundreds of would be assassins in increasingly inventive and remarkably athletic ways. Beginning with a dozen-against-one throwdown in a prison bathroom stall, progressing to a battle royale in a muddy prison courtyard and a remarkably precise face-off in a restaurant kitchen, Evans and his cinematographers Dimas Imam Subhono and Matt Flannery frame the mayhem with loving attention. The effect is thrilling and makes almost every other recent action movie feel unimaginative and stale. The Raid 2 may be the chopsocky movie for people who think they don’t like martial arts movies - at the very least it’s the best representative of the genre since the original Raid.
That said, it offers little other than a string of remarkable set-pieces - Uwais is an effective but limited actor and the cartoony script gives him little to do other than brood and flash his fists. On the other hand, Putra, as the main villain, manages the neat trick of enlisting at least a little of our empathy. Sure, he’s a cruel and ruthless criminal, but he’s oppressed by his impossible-to-please father Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), Jakarta’s biggest criminal kingpin.
While the cinematography and choreography (by Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, who also has a role in the film) are the main draws here, Evans manages to inject some grim humor via the characters Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Ulisman), sibling assassins named for their favorite toys.
The bigger budget and extra length - it’s 38 minutes longer than The Raid: Redemption - don’t really add much to the film. The Raid: Redemption was like the distilled essence of action movies, basically one long fight confined to a high-rise tenement. That part of The Raid 2 that isn’t composed of fighting sequences borders on dull.
But no one would say that about the movie as a whole. While it’s possible to prefer the original over the sequel, The Raid 2 is a remarkable experience.
The Raid 2 88 Cast: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian, Tio Pakusodewo, Very Tri Ulisman Director: Gareth Evans Rating: R, for strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language Running time: 150 minutes In Indonesian, Japanese and Arabic with English subtitles
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 04/11/2014
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