(Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on January 22nd, 2014, from the Sundance Film Festival. We’re republishing it now since the film is open in limited release.)
When director Gareth Evans introduced The Raid 2, his highly anticipated sequel to the 2011 cult hit The Raid: Redemption, to a packed house on premiere night at the Sundance Film Festival, he joked that the film will actually be titled The Raid 2: More Redemption; while that is both fitting and amusing, the film could simply be titled The Raid 2: More, and that would be absolutely sufficient. Evans’ first film in his burgeoning franchise (the third Raid film is already in the works, and reportedly picks up somewhere in the middle of the second film) was primarily set in a single location – a mob owned and operated high rise filled with criminals and victims of every stripe – and its video game sensibility kept things moving despite the seeming limitations of such confined space. For his next film, however, Evans has blown out the world to reach far beyond a single building, and the sudden and intense expansion of the world of The Raid assures that this is a formidable series, unbounded by the normal expectations of similar franchises.
And that’s to say nothing of the fighting sequences that Evans and his team have put together: inventive, long form, and absolutely brutal, the action-heavy The Raid 2 doesn’t diminish its predecessor, but it clarifies its place – it was only the beginning.
Picking up almost immediately after the events of the first film, The Raid 2 returns us to the drama and trauma of battered police officer Rama (Iko Uwais), freed from the confines of the apartment building but still under living in fear of gangster Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo) and the rest of his goons. Initially reticent to get back into the cop game and continue the fight, Rama finally gives in and joins a special team dedicated to rooting out bad cops. But Rama isn’t taking his skills to the real world, he’s tasked with going deep undercover in prison, all in order to get close to Bangun’s incarnated son, Uco (Arifin Putra). The plan works – but it takes two years in the clink, and once let out, Rama is thrown into the mob underworld as an enforcer for the fearsome gang leader.
The Raid 2 pushes the boundaries of the franchise’s universe ever outward, evolving the series into something closely resembling a crime epic. The machinations of the gang world take center stage, and internal politics and double-crosses drive the story. While Evans’ ability to completely revitalize and renew his story is impressive, the lack of a gimmick on par with the “it’s all in an apartment building” plot of the first film deflates some of the action for the film’s first half. Evans has a lot of moving pieces to push together, and while the first few fight sequences (including two stunners set within the prison’s walls) assure the audience that there will be plenty of punching and kicking to spare, the narrative frequently goes slack.
Along with expanding the scope of the series, Evans has also added in more story and more seemingly crucial characters, and while that decision may be a direct response to critics who balked at the light story of the first film, Evans has yet to refine his character-based storytelling and the film stumbles when it tries to beef up its narrative. Curiously, though Evans adds in new characters and new complications, short shrift is given to a major player from the first film, and the choice to remove him from the equation is problematic.
But this is a Raid film and, as such, the real star is the action, the fight sequences, and the jawdropping nature of what Evans his team can put onscreen. After loading up with narrative and story in the first half of the film, The Raid 2 unleashes action that is so stylish, so clever, and so gruesome that it makes The Raid look like a warm-up. Removing the one location gimmick may remove some of the inventiveness from the first film, but it also allows Evans to stage wholly inspired fights in a variety of locations – including the prison, the subway, office buildings, a warehouse, a swanky nightclub, and just about everywhere in between. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are absolutely punishing, but so skillfully accomplished that they are hard to look away from.
Evans does action that other directors are not even attempting to do, and The Raid 2 unquestionably illustrates the depth of his talent as an action director, and that he’s essentially peerless in modern cinema. An extended car chase scene focused on carnage over actually getting somewhere is a highlight, and Rama’s final battle with an actually matched competitor is perhaps the finest two-person fight sequence every committed to film. Evans still retains a great sense of humor, even when it comes to his most gruesome fight scenes, peppering sequences with automatically amusing weapons (a baseball bat and ball, tiny little knives, a hot plate) that add laughs in alongside cheers and groans.
The Raid 2 is a massive step (and kick and punch and body slam) forward for both the franchise at large and director Evans specifically, an intense, inventive, and stylish entry into the action genre that automatically elevates the series to instant classic territory. While the rapid universe expansion comes with its own quibbles, Evans is progressing at a frightening rate, and the series is on course to only get better, vaster, and more original with each entry.
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