Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Raid 2 (2014) Film Review
The Raid 2
Reviewed by: David Graham
With increasing pressure on Western studios to deliver anodyne PG-13 blockbusters, and the early Noughties martial arts deluge that led to international success for everyone from Tony Jaa to Zhang Yimou slowing to a trickle, the action movie wasn't exactly in rude health when Gareth Evans delivered a shot of adrenaline to its heart with The Raid in early 2012. The genre is still largely presided over by pension-age dinosaurs like Arnie, Sly and Bruce Willis, so for once a speedy sequel couldn't be more welcome, Evans' formula of up-close-and-personal fisticuffs and boundary-pushing weapon warfare still feeling fresh and daring. In breaking free from the original's ghetto setting and ramping the run-time up to 150 minutes, he risks sacrificing purity as well as paucity, but incredibly he's pulled off another epic slice of blood-pumping mayhem on a vastly increased scale. It's not without its flaws, and may be too much - in several ways - to win over the masses, but it's the biggest kick up the cinematic arse you're likely to get this year.
Having survived the tower block siege that reunited him with his criminal brother and exposed his police force as being riddled with corruption, Rama finds himself coerced into going undercover in order to continue investigating links between the law and the underworld. Getting himself flung in jail in order to ingratiate his way to the right-hand side of Uco - son of the Bangun family mob boss - Rama soon starts to question the predicament he's been placed in. With the demands from his superiors clashing with his burgeoning loyalty to his crew, it's the need to avenge his brother's execution that ultimately drives Rama, leading to a series of face-offs against rising gangster Bejo's ruthless assassins. Bejo and Uco threaten to destroy the old truce between the long-established crime families, and with Rama caught in the crossfire, all hell looks set to break loose on the streets of Jakarta.
Evans' ambitions with this sequel are evident from the outset, his opening sequence taking clear inspiration from Martin Scorsese's Casino, while the bulk of the script trades on echoes of The Departed. That Oscar-winner was itself a remake of Infernal Affairs of course, so it's telling of Evans' craft and aims that The Raid 2 feels more like the Western film than its Eastern predecessor. He largely succeeds in his goals, weaving a complex web of deceit and intrigue that only loses its way in some haphazard storytelling during the mid-stretch. It's perhaps nit-picking, but having so many similarly named clans and references to characters with hardly any screentime undoubtedly makes the plot a little bewildering at points.
But hey, who's here for plot? While there's definitely a more engaging story to tell here, and a plethora of charismatic new stars are given time to shine, any Evans film is eventually going to boil down to bone-breaking and blood-spilling, and in this regard The Raid 2 certainly doesn't disappoint. The violence levels are surprisingly well-modulated throughout to keep the audience on their toes – Evans doesn’t wade in gratuitously quite as often as you’d expect, switching between cut-aways and close-ups to make the punch-lines even more gut-churning and rabble-rousing. There are several scenes of never-before-attempted gore that need to be seen to be believed, and Evans brings the ruckus on a scale unprecedented for something this serious, the choreography remaining consistently inventive, his long, fluid takes giving the action a visceral quality that's both irresistibly hypnotic and breathlessly exciting.
Iko Uwais again proves his mettle as an action hero, his near-balletic displays balancing raw brawling with an imaginative employment of Indonesian Silat, while he also gets a much greater chance to flex his acting muscles, making Rama a richer, more rounded protagonist. Arifin Putra is a real discovery as the petulant, arrogant Uco, his slick rockabilly looks and air of disdain marking him out as a potential international crossover star, which Oka Antara is well on the way to becoming, following up impressive turns in V/H/S/2 and Killers with some finely nuanced work here, which can only really be appreciated fully towards the end. While Evans is content to let many of the secondary villains function as end-of-level baddies, he still marshals his massive ensemble with aplomb, further hinting at what he might achieve in the future should he ever grow tired of the chop-socky game.
A couple of set-pieces feel derivative of older films – the final warehouse break’n’enter is heavily reminiscent of Hard Boiled, while many of the fights are again indebted to Tony Jaa’s trailblazing Ong Bak. Also, some of the story threads only add to the occasionally convoluted feel and ultimately lead to nowhere: it’s a pleasure to see Mad Dog actor Yayn Ruhian again - he's given a chance here to work his considerable presence in a more sympathetic way - but his subplot, while enjoyable in its own right, feels like an unnecessary digression. Similarly, while Visitor Q star Ken'ichi Endo always brings something to the table, his presence is clearly a tease for the final installment.
Like the first film, it’s far from perfect – characters often get lost in the dust, and the pacing occasionally suffers for the need to both get through the drama and get onto the next fight – but it’s still an awesome accomplishment that will delight fans and boost the careers of all involved. Bolstered by Evans' own razor-sharp editing and another bristling, tension-stoking score from Joseph Trapanese (none of this Linkin Park nonsense this time), The Raid 2 offers more of everything that made the first film so great, fine-tuning the suspense-building and even finding time for the odd moment of black humor here and Frankenheimer-esque car-chase there. It was perhaps never going to have the same jaw-slackening, blunt-force impact of the original, but The Raid 2 is a more-than-worthy successor that sets things up brilliantly - and satisfactorily - for the final part. Frankly, it can't come quickly enough.Reviewed on: 10 Apr 2014