Director: Gareth H. Evans
Starring: Ilo Uwais, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusadewo, Oka Antara, Yayan Ruhian, Julie Estrelle. Ryuhei Matsuda, Kazuki Kitamura
Shortly after the events of The Raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) turns in the evidence against crooked cops to the man his brother Andi said could be trusted, anti-corruption officer Bunawar (Cok Simbara). Realizing Rama’s fighting prowess and appealing to his sense of justice, Bunawar tasks him to go undercover and befriend Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of Indonesia’s most powerful crime head and currently serving time in prison. As Rama finds himself doing things no cop should ever, his duty comes at odds with his sense of survival. When a power struggle threatens the truce between the crime families of Ucok and the Japanese Goto clan, will Rama be able to weather the armies of thugs, trained killers, and betrayals to make it home to his old life?
When The Raid was released, it exploded on screen in a dizzying mix of gunplay and frenetically paced martial arts. Director Gareth Huw Evans instantly became a cult darling and his extremely well received segment “Safe Haven” from the V/H/S 2 horror anthology further established him as an up and coming filmmaker to watch out for. Inevitable then was the much anticipated sequel for his breakthrough film along with its stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian. Originally conceived under the title Berandal, Evans originally wanted to shoot the film first, but found difficulties in financing and instead opted to shoot The Raid, shelving the film for later. Now, with a much larger budget and an international cast, Evans has dusted off his project and, I’m certain with a bit of retooling, has made an even more action-packed film but with some perhaps overly ambitious ideas.
A self-proclaimed genre aficionado, Evans seems to draw inspiration from classic Japanese yakuza films and action video games with its story and larger than life characters. The plot concerning rival crime families will certainly seem very familiar to Japanese crime enthusiasts, and Uwais’ character does indeed follow the ‘lone wolf’ caricature although with an undercover bend. And that perhaps sums the film up in the most succinct way; it’s a whole lot of ideas. While it mostly succeeds in the execution, the sheer number of elements thrown in creates a somewhat convoluted film with some real pacing issues and a number of characters introduced for their sheer ‘cool factor’ and the inclusion of some seriously badass action scenes.
And what action scenes they are; car chases, ambushes, and some of the most intricately coordinated fight scenes in years. With choreography by Yayan Ruhian and Hong Kong veteran Bruce Law, the action is varied and complex. Standout sequences include a car chase scene, notoriously difficult to coordinate, which is full of destruction, both of vehicles and human bodies. The prison riot scene is one of the most visceral and unique set pieces of the film; it is dirty, gritty, and so large in scope, it’s destined to be reference material for how to shoot group action. The finale sequence featuring Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman is absolutely exhausting. Starting out as a very traditional depiction of silat, as the stakes get raised and the fight becomes that much more visceral and desperate. Fight fans will certainly point to this sequence as the most memorable and while it is certainly one of the best fights ever put on film, for me it loses points for an uncharismatic villain (he has ZERO lines!) The other trained killers, simply named Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) make some very strong impressions, on the viewers as well as on skulls, and I look forward to their futures in action films.
In the end, The Raid 2 delivers even more ferocious action than even its predecessor. While certainly more ambitious and much more focused on the story than the desperate survival tone of the original, it stretches itself too thin. Though I admire the attempt at an epic crime film, its strengths lay, as with the original, in the brilliant action. In many cases, the story does feel earned but the film does somehow stall, if even slightly, when not in the kinetic action parts. Don’t let this minor critique scare anyone away from the film, what it does well, it does absolutely brilliantly. It’s just less of a tight film and lacks the lean but effective narrative structure of the original. Mayhem on celluloid, it’s however THE must see action film of the year.