It’s clear from the opening scene of The Raid 2 that the film has every intention of surpassing its processor by delivering beautiful cinematics, memorable character and a story full of life. It goes on to show its next evolution of gunplay and cinematic martial arts which also contributes to The Raid 2 following a natural and wonderful evolution from the original Raid. The story picks up just after the events of the first film and while that doesn’t seem possible, it is and it makes sense with the story. Rama and his surviving officers turn to another police unit to essentially protect them and cover up their involvement with the events of the first film. Rama is asked to join the group and go undercover which he declines… that is until his family is affected by a new mobster Bejo.
Rama goes undercover, but the catch is that he will need to get there by nefarious deeds that can’t be faked. His goal while in prison is to get close to Uco, the son of the gangster Bangun. This isn’t too difficult of a task as Rama (now called Yuda) plays hard to get, but then prevents Uco from being killed during a massive prison riot orchestrated for the sole purpose of taking Uco’s life.
Months in prison turn into years as Yuda (Rama) is released and picked up by Uco who is excited to have him meet and work for his father. While his protection of Uco on the inside has earned him some good faith, Yuda must still play the role and go on collections with Yuda as an enforcer and prove himself.
The movie runs almost three hours, but unlike some epic fantasy films you won’t even notice. The reason being that it’s an action film offering you everything that’s great about the genre: story, characters, gunplay, ultra-violence and martial arts.
Writer, director and editor Gareth Evans delivers an incredible film. There is no aspect of this film that is unaccounted for. The cinematography is incredible and that doesn’t just apply to the way that the violence was filmed, but to the entire look of the film. The first film was restrained by budget and location, but with The Raid 2 the handcuffs are off. There is an incredible amount of wonderful looking shots. One of the opening scenes with Rama in prison has him sitting in a bathroom stall with an angry mob outside waiting to greet him. The camera begins with a focus on Rama and then spins up to a god-cam view to show Rama and the door that separates him from the mob. There were countless other scenes with brilliant camera rotations or textbook shots that were executed expertly.
Another aspect of Evans’ direction and his ability to create a memorable world is the characters. Some of them are just solid actors that deliver impressive performances, while others are memorable for other reasons. Characters like Baseball Bat Man, Hammer Girl, The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman) and Bejo stand out because of their design or presence. Bejo has a trademark look of a black jacket, cane, black gloves and sunglasses. He’s never out of this look; his sunglasses are never taken off and because of that you remember him no matter what. In the case of Baseball Bat Man, he’s memorable because of his actions. Hitting a baseball so hard that it kills a man or becomes embedded in a wall is enough to remember him, but then Evans added in the extra personality trait of asking for his ball back from his intended target. As you can imagine aspects like this make every character that has a role in the film is memorable.
Martial Arts films have largely been on the decline with a few exceptions popping up and beginning to fill the void left by the likes of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Iko Uwais who plays Rama, has the potential to be a huge martial arts star if he continues to take roles like The Raid and The Raid 2. The main reason being that he can act, but when the time comes to throw down he can do that as well. For the most part he’s back with his formidable pencak silat style, but the fight scenes are larger and more incredible.
While the violence and choreography on the scenes is fantastic, it’s actually the final martial arts scene that is the most spectacular. Uwais’ battle with Cecep Arif Rahman is stunning, but more so it shows that wires aren’t a substitute for real skill. To give a strange example it reminded me of Jackie Chan’s Young Master in which Chan asked a talented martial artist to be in the film because he wanted to fight him and produce an incredible scene. To this day I use that scene as the bench mark for fight scenes and Uwais and Rahman’s scene surpasses that mark.
One of the impressive things about the first film was its mixture of gunplay with martial arts and the Raid 2 is no slouch in this department either. Film in general has embraced a realistic view towards guns when it comes to bullet count. No more are the days of John Woo and the infinite ammo supply. Guns don’t dominate the movie, but Evans finds plenty of unique uses for them that make for stunning ultra-violent scenes.
To talk about the gunplay is to bring up the sound. In that regard the sound engineer is much like the letterer of a comic book in which they’re an unsung hero. The reason for noting it here is because there’s a huge focus on the sound in the film. At times it’s the lack of sound, but other times it’s the intensity of the gunshots and the ambience that it creates that makes the film immersive.
In some ways The Raid 2 represents what can be created when you give a competent creator the control and budget to produce their vision. Granted that’s not always the case, but with Gareth Evans it most certainly is. There is too much to take away from this film; from the storytelling, the action, the cinematography; it’s the complete package. It’s rare that sequel surpasses the original and even rarer when it’s one person responsible for the writing, directing and editing, but Evans has done just that. Even though this is a sequel, Evans has managed to create a film that can be watched, enjoyed and understood on its own; and that is what a true sequel should be… its own film.
Writer/Director/Editor: Gareth Evans Distributor: Sony Picture Classics Release Date: 3/28/14