Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Film Review: The Raid 2

            The sequel to Gareth Evan’s breakout hit The Raid (AKA The Raid: Redemption) continues the story of cop Rama (Iko Uwais) a mere two hours after the closing moments of the first film. And, story-wise at least, that’s pretty much all the two films have in common.
            Whilst the original The Raid was largely confined to a single location over a period of a few hours, The Raid 2 is a sprawling crime epic, encompassing several characters and storylines - this time spanning over the course of a few years. The budget, the ambition and (of course) the bone-crunching violence of the action sequences that many people praised in the first film, have all been upped considerably for the sequel – Evans proving that he is a genuinely exciting talent to watch and not just a one-hit wonder.
            In The Raid 2, Rama is forced to go deep undercover in order to weed out corrupt cops, but along the way becomes deeply entrenched in working for the local mob boss Bangun, his ambitious hothead of a son Ucok, as well as encountering a dozen other colourful characters ranging from rival bosses, hitmen, underworld lowlifes and corrupt officials. It’s a definite change of pace, and, whilst the intense action scenes and bloody fights are still all present and correct, there is a bit more down time for the story to breathe and characters to develop.
            As a result, it’s nice to get to see Iko Uwais getting more time to act this time around, but special mention also goes to Arifin Putra, who impresses as young mob heir Ucok – a more complex character that carries much of the dramatic weight of the film. There is also a Japanese element added to the story in the form of a Yakuza presence (headed by Kenichi Endo) that hints at a much larger world beyond.
            The scope and cinematography of the film have also been considerable upped. There are plenty of lingering long shots, extreme close-ups during heightened moments as well as some tasteful use of slo-mo. The style calls attention to itself a lot more this time around – this also being the case with the action sequences and their kinetic camera work as well as the quieter moments. There are overhead shots of huge brawls, shots rolling through windows as characters are thrown through them, and a camera being passed through one window and out of another during a frantic car chase. In addition to the excellent fight choreography, the way these scenes are expertly staged and shot is a breathless and visceral thrill.
            Tonally, The Raid 2 does feel different, however. The violence this time is darker, gorier and a touch more mean-spirited. Whereas many deaths in the previous film seemed to be an ugly necessity for the characters in order to survive the immediate situation, here there are also plenty of executions and assassinations, often unflinching in their delivery, refusing to cut away. This is undoubtedly one of the most violent and bloody theatrical releases of recent times.
            Not only are characters unexpectedly (and often shockingly) offed, but the whole film has an omnipresent sense of threat throughout – as if any scene can suddenly burst out into ultraviolence. Evans uses this well to ratchet up the tension throughout, creating a very dark and nihilistic feeling of no escape, as if no one is truly untouchable and every character is living on borrowed time.
            Despite its lengthy running time, The Raid 2 never feels overly long. Although it isn’t the succinct and perfectly formed rollercoaster ride of it’s predecessor, the wider canvas of the story it tells indeed deserves a lengthier movie. And there is certainly plenty of variation: highlights include a twenty-against-one fight in a toilet cubicle (that swiftly puts to shame the recent Captain America The Winter Soldier’s lift scene), a muddy prison yard brawl, the return of Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog!) as a homeless assassin; and a hammer scene that quite easily manages to leave that scene from Old Boy in the dust.
            The film isn’t without its faults, however. The fact that the original incarnation (simply entitled Berendal) was in pre-production before the original The Raid and then later retro-fitted to be its sequel, does lead to some unevenness in the story, and some of the ridiculously over-the-top fight sequences and almost comic book characters (actual names: “Baseball Bat Man”, “Hammer Girl”) occasionally stand at odds with the more realistic and gritty gangland tone that the film strives for.
            Taken with a pinch of salt, however, these are minor quibbles and if you are able to suspend your disbelief, they actually add a welcome colourful flourish to the rogue’s gallery of the film. Evan’s The Raid 2 is visually stunning, the action sequences push at the boundaries of the genre, and it even occasionally finds the odd moment to be darkly funny. Calling it a mixture of Infernal Affairs, The Godfather and a high-octane martial arts movie all rolled into one sounds fairly ridiculous – and yet is pretty accurate. If you can stomach the violence, this one is not to be missed.

14th April 2014

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