Three years ago, an Indonesian film by a Welsh director no one had ever heard of came out of nowhere to take the world by storm. Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption has been dubbed by some as the best martial art action film of the last 15 to 20 years. And if you have seen it, you’ll know it’s no hyperbole.
The Raid 2 could have easily been a cash-grab sequel, but instead, with a higher budget and grander ambitions, Evans has crafted a direct follow-up that harnesses some of the best aspects of the original — except he ups the dial by at least a couple of notches — while also adding more depth to the characters and story line, the things that were criticized the first time around.
The result is an impressive sequel that is technically and on paper superior to the original, though of course, it is not, because it’s never possible to capture the same magic of a surprise hit.
The Raid 2 picks up shortly where the first film left off, with our protagonist Rama (Iko Uwais) agreeing to go undercover in order to take down a crime boss. He is inserted into a dangerous Indonesian prison, where he befriends the son of the target and works his way up to earn their trust.
To be honest though, I didn’t really care much for the plot — I just wanted to see more of the insane action I experienced from the first film. In that regard, The Raid 2 delivers in spades, putting together a number of extremely well choreographed, tense and brutally violent fight scenes. Furthermore, the action is creative, varied and not repetitive; group battles, one-on-one, one-on-a-hundred, fistfights, knife fights, gun fights — you name it. It’s violence as an art form.
In many ways the fighting is even more stylized than in its predecessor, but it still maintains a strange level of surreal realism, if that makes sense. The stuff on the screen — the blood, the guts, the limbs, and all the martial arts moves — looks ultra-realistic, and yet you know there’s no chance in hell even the greatest of martial artists can pull off such maneuvers with such fluidity, power and grace in quick succession. The characters are also seemingly invincible and can withstand all sorts of brutal punishment until they have to die, in which case they suddenly become extremely vulnerable to a fatal attack.
Evans also does a great job of setting up what I like to call “bosses”, even though they are caricatures and not really characters, but it’s important because then we’ll understand the gravity of the situation when our heroes are pitted against these supervillains in epic “boss fights”. There was really only one epic boss fight in The Raid: Redemption; in The Raid 2 there are many.
On the other hand, you could say The Raid 2 is too excessive. Not just in terms of the length (a whopping 150 minutes, compared to just 101 minutes for its predecessor), but everything. In an attempt to trump the original, Evans arguably committed the “Michael Bay sin” — the mistaken belief that bigger, louder and more extravagant necessarily means “better”. Don’t get me wrong — I had a great time with it, but I can understand if some viewers thought it was overkill. Part of what made The Raid:Redemption so great is that it was all about one man’s survival against the odds, kind of like Die Hard (just the greatest action movie ever). It was raw and rough around the edges, and yet that was also what made it a classic. The Raid 2 tries to give audiences more action, more blood, more gore, more characters, more plot and more length, but in the process it also loses some of its essence and purity.
In the end, The Raid 2 doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s still a kick-ass action flick, one that will likely rank as one of the best of the year.
4 stars out of 5