Searing itself into the cinematic lexicon Gareth Evans’ The Raid didn’t so much re-invent the action genre as give it an adrenaline injection to the heart. He would no doubt have been inundated with offers from Hollywood to go mainstream, to bring his blistering brand of action to a Die Hard movie – after all, what is The Raid if not a Die Hard remake of sorts – but instead Evans chose to retain his creative freedom in his adopted Indonesia. The result is The Raid 2, a film that, as any good sequel should do, looks to keep the core ingredients of the first film whilst upping the ante.
Picking up almost immediately after the events of the first film The Raid 2 sees cop Rama (Iko Uwais) determined to avenge the execution of his brother. Recruited into a secretive undercover police unit Rama intentionally gets himself sent to prison in order to get close to Uco (Arifin Putra) the son of one of the city’s biggest crime lords. But when Uco grows close to rival king pin Bejo (Alex Abbad) Rama finds himself embroiled in a turf war where the only person he can trust is himself and his tiny fists of fury.
It’s hard to ignore Evans’ ambition with The Raid 2. He has set out to make something grand, a film in the vein of Nolan’s The Dark Knight or even The Godfather Part II, a sprawling crime epic with an array of morally ambiguous characters. Plot wise it doesn’t always work, the story becoming bogged down with double-crossings and sub-plots that bring little to the overall narrative. At the end of the day Rama is our protagonist and at times he’s all too often sidelined as he is not essential to the main story.
That being said what The Raid 2 does better than almost any other film you’re likely to see this year is action. Like the first film it’s crunching, bloody, violent brilliance, a comic book style energy where claret is sprayed across the screen in fountains and bones are snapped with a cringe-inducing visceral clarity. Evans isn’t looking to hide any of it either, there’s no shaky-close-up-cam here, but rather an in the thick of it point of view that allows you to fully revel in the stunning fight choreography. Huge accolades should be poured on both Uwais and fellow fight choreographer Yayan Ruhian for the way in which they execute the set-pieces. If anything you sense at times they’re slowing down their natural rhythm to allow us to take in every move and punch less we miss something spectacular.
But it isn’t just the action where Evans excels, he’s a visual craftsman, even in the more subdued scenes he dips into a colour pallet that is wonderfully vibrant and evocative of this dark and seedy world Rama has entered. One minute it’s all deep blues of a Michael Mann film, the next eye-popping reds that wouldn’t look out of place in a David Lynch of Nicolas Winding Refn movie. His camera work meanwhile knows no bounds, wonderfully framing moments – look no further than Prakoso’s stabbing of a target through a fence – while happily allowing us to become part of the action as we fly through windows and walls in order to keep up with the sheer hyper-kinetic energy of everything on screen. Combine this with his staging editing ability and there is no doubt that Evans is a director of vast talent, the kind of action director to pick up the mantle left vacant for too long by the likes of John Woo and Tony Scott.
The cast are all appropriately sinister with Abbad and Putra in particular bringing a wonderful sense of lurking damage beneath their evil ways. But the film once again belongs to Uwais who is never anything less than a spectacular screen presence to behold. His action skills are up there with the greats of the martial arts genre like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan but perhaps more than either of those two he has genuine acting talents to boot. His Rama is an often strong silent type but you always get the sense of scared vulnerability lurking behind his eyes. Indeed it is a perfect close-up at the end which captures Rama’s plight and Uwais subtly powerful performance.
Visceral, violent and bloody brilliant, The Raid 2 cements both Evans and Uwais as action gods.