In 2012 a film erupted onto our screens that generously reinvigorated the action genre and injected a much needed shot of epinephrine into our martial arts veins. That film was The Raid and this spring serves up The Raid 2, possibly one of the most hotly anticipated sequels in recent action movie times.
Iko Uwais returns as our hero, Rama, who must again fight his way, against all the odds, through droves of fist, foot and knife-wielding bad guys to avenge the death of his brethren and make things right…by beating, maiming and killing everything that moves.
Gareth Evans stays behind the wheel and this time he’s gone bigger and bolder than the first instalment to get fight fans the world over chomping at the bit to see just how many new and ingenious ways he and Uwais can conjure up to break their team of stunt men in half.
And they don’t disappoint. This is two and a half hours of sustained high level martial art mayhem, with Uwais once again showcasing his unique skillset in the Indonesian fight form of silat. It’s a long film by any standards, however, and almost an enitre hour longer than its succinctly successful predecessor. So, why the extra 50 minutes of footage this time around?
Well, that’s a very good question. Evans has clearly broadened the stroke of his directorial brush here to encompass further nuances of the action thriller landscape. Gone is the confinement of the original (being set entirely inside one building), the claustrophobic immediacy of combat that made it so intense and ultimately thrilling, and instead now we have stylish exteriors, sweeping car chases and sprawling plot lines eliciting distinct wafts of the intelligent Infernal Affairs movies. There’s nothing wrong with that but Infernal Affairs was a complex and twisting thriller, The Raid a ground-breaking action masterpiece. That’s not to say that ‘never the twain shall meet’ but if you take Momma’s delicious home recipe sauce and mass-produce and churn it out onto the supermarket shelves then it will undoubtedly lose some of its authentic and original flavour. But is that what’s happened here…?
Now, obviously Evans and Co. couldn’t have just found another even taller building for Rama to fight his way out of but, also, it isn’t really clear what his motivation is second time round. In the first outing our hero has to fight his way out. He has to do whatever is necessary to get his team and himself out of that building alive, so we’re with him as he destroys everything and everyone in his path with brutal and clinical technique. The end justifies the means. This time, apart from the opening scene of the movie (which is never returned to), there is no real justification for the excessive and endless violence that Rama inflicts on and witnesses in the world around him, leaving it feeling slightly gratuitous.
The genuine jeopardy is gone but the same narrative arc is present: he will fight and fight until he gets to the end and then he will fight one more time against the baddest of the bad dudes in one almighty finale fight. There are lots of fights. But this time you can see it coming and it takes (massive understatement) quite a while in getting there. It starts to feel a bit like one justifying plot progression scene after another, then an amazing fight sequence – then hit repeat. If the first film had one too many fights then The Raid 2 has one too many hours of fights. It isn’t that they’re not all awesomely impressive, far from it, they are, just that after so many incredible battle scenes they all start to merge into one and the feeling of crescendo towards a finale is somewhat diminished.
‘Yeah but I don’t really go to see The Raid for its storyline’, you cry? And quite right you may be. However, this film is chock-a-block with laboured and excessive plot-driving dialogue scenes, in an attempt to create some of that jeopardy for Rama from the original and paper over the cracks that there, sadly, is none here.
OK, OK, enough of that, let’s talk about the fight stuff again. The martial arts choreography and action sequences in this film are completely stunning in their spine-chillingly violent execution and riotously entertaining in their cinematic expression. The audience genuinely ‘whoop and holla’ and moan and groan at the fireworks of violence exploding across the screen.
There are some lovely innovative moments, like the mass mud brawl and car chase getaway, but you can’t help but feel some of the fights do look and feel choreographed – running a bit slower than feels real, for the benefit of the camera perhaps. That being said, there is some very nifty camera work employed to capture some of the more intricate combat, look to the fluid camera movement during the fight sequences with Rama in the prison toilet cubicle and again when escaping the car, as it seems the camera moves with and around him as he despatches foe upon foe.
We have to mention the reappearance of ‘Mad Dog’ actor Yayan Ruhian (as well as the heavy nods to fellow Asian cinema cult classic, Old Boy – cue hammers and punching walls) here. Ruhian is now under a very different guise from how we remember him, sporting a dodgy wig and beard as definitely-not-Mad-Dog psychotically detached assassin, Prakoso. Between him and Uwais they have enough emphatic prowess in their chosen discipline to make The Raid 2 an entertaining and impactful piece of action cinema. It’s just too long, a bit flabby on plot and cohesion, and shouldn’t have tried so hard to be a clever twisting thriller…
Oh, forget it, you’re right: the action is awesome and that’s all that ultimately matters!