Gareth Evans | 150 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | Indonesia & USA / Indonesian, English & Japanese | 18*
I wasn’t as impressed as some were by The Raid when I finally got round to watching it two years ago — in my review I said its action was merely equal to other Asian fight flicks, asserted that Dredd had done the same story in a more rounded fashion, and compared the whole thing to Mamma Mia. To use a term that came up in my comments recently: where Mamma Mia is a chick flick, The Raid is definitely a dick flick. That’s probably why it’s taken me this long to get round to its sequel, which was at least as well-liked by the viewing public, if not more so (it has a higher rating on IMDb) — but I couldn’t trust that last time, so why this time? However, it turns out The Raid 2 is an entirely different kettle of fish.
That’s certainly true of the plot — this may be the least “just a rehash of the first film” sequel ever made. Starting mere hours after its predecessor finished, the sequel begins with good cop Rama (Iko Uwais) being co-opted into an anti-corruption internal affairs unit. It’s not just about doing the right thing, though: Rama wants a shot at Bejo (Alex Abbad), a rising criminal who murdered Rama’s brother. Rama is promptly asked to leave his wife and young son behind to go undercover in a prison with the aim of getting close to Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of powerful mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Unfortunately, instead of being sentenced to a couple of months as promised, Rama is given years in jail. Nonetheless, he manages to ingratiate himself with his target, and upon his eventual release is immediately granted a position in Bangun’s organisation. And, look, this is meant to be a review, not a plot summary — it all just spirals from there.
Where the first film was an efficient, simple thriller designed almost solely to link the startling action sequences, here writer-director Gareth Evans has created a sprawling crime epic. Anyone who’s seen the kind of gangster actioners Hong Kong cinema has produced since the ’80s or so will feel in familiar territory. That’s no bad thing, however, just a point of genre comparison. By expanding the world he’s created out in every direction, Evans has created a work that is not only bigger in a literal sense, but also deeper, more complex, and more interesting than the straightforward adrenaline rush of the movie that made his name.
That’s not to say The Raid 2 skimps on the action front, mind. Oh no. Far from it. If anything, the physical displays here are even greater, and certainly more varied. A free-for-all riot in a muddy prison yard brings to mind the church fight from Kingsman in its crazed frenzy; the first film’s Mad Dog, Yayan Ruhian, is back as a new character who gets a remarkable battle around a multi-level nightclub; the instantly iconic and aptly named Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) gets a showcase on a subway car, and later double teams with her chum Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) to take on Rama; and that’s not even the climax, as our hero goes toe to toe with knife-wielding henchman The Assassin (Cecep Arief Rahman) in a kitchen-set rumble that has to be seen to be believed.
But as incredible as each of those are — and indeed they are — the highest of highlights is surely the car chase. There’s a chance you’ll have heard about this even if you’re not especially interested in the film: a bit of behind-the-scenes detail about how they achieved one particular shot went viral a couple of years ago. If you haven’t seen that, nor the film, then don’t seek it out — it actually kinda spoils it a little bit, knowing how it was done. (Without spoiling it, it was all done practically, whereas a Hollywood blockbuster would undoubtedly have done it with CGI — and spent as much on that one shot as Evans and co have on this entire movie.) The sequence is more than just one technically-impressive shot, however, but an exciting and innovative action scene all round, that definitely pushed the boundaries of the filmmakers’ capabilities (they had to get in a specialist outfit from overseas to help realise their ambitions).
Those are just the highlights — there are numerous smaller but no less accomplished sequences elsewhere, too. To be precise, there are 19 fight scenes, featuring more complex choreography than the first film — and it’s one of the fight choreographers who said that, so it must be true. The two-and-a-half hour running time may mean The Raid 2 isn’t the unrelenting action-fest that the first film was, but those memorable combats are just as much a part of the film’s DNA. I don’t think anyone’s going to feel shortchanged.
From a filmmaking point of view, it’s even more accomplished. Evans demonstrated he knew how to lens action in the first movie, but here the whole movie looks more polished and more expensive (even though it only cost $4.5 million). There’s greater ambition on display in every facet, including both the choreography and the camerawork. Most Hollywood blockbusters seem to push (or exceed) the two-and-a-half hour mark these days, and even when it fills that time, it feels like it’s partly because no one quite knew when to cut back. The Raid 2, however, feels suitably epic — just as you think a film that’s two-and-a-half hours long ought to feel, really.
For me, The Raid 2 outclasses its predecessor in every possible way, from the deeper and more involving story, to the jaw-dropping feats of choreography and performance, to the more assured and polished filmmaking. An instant action classic.
The Raid 2 will be available on Amazon Prime Instant Video UK from tomorrow.
It placed 2nd on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.