2012’s The Raid came with a flurry of fanfare following a series of festival screenings touting it as a masterpiece of action cinema. Written and directed by Gareth Evans the film no doubt featured some impressive action choreography, but the story was non-existent to the point of boredom. That said, to say my expectations for The Raid 2 were limited is an understatement. When I saw it runs two-and-a-half hours my interest dwindled even more, expecting to see it, if ever, on Blu-ray. Well, I did and I’m very glad I did, proving expectations can sometimes cause you to miss something great.
The immediate comparison here is to say The Raid 2 is to The Raid what Infernal Affairs 2 is to Infernal Affairs, but that’s to give The Raid too much credit. The comparison to Infernal Affairs 2 alone, however, is apt. The two films follow somewhat similar storylines, centering on a police officer going deep undercover to the point they go to jail and eventually infiltrate a local mob in an effort to uncover the dirty cops from within. For those that have seen the first film you’ll know this undercover cop as Rama (Iko Uwais) as the story picks up only a couple hours following his level-by-level annihilation of the bad guys in The Raid.
Once in prison, Rama, posing as Yuda, befriends Uco (Arifin Putra), son of a local Jakarta syndicate leader and after two years on the inside he’s welcomed into the syndicate with open arms, becoming something of an enforcer alongside Uco who’s desperately eying his father’s seat as top dog in Jakarta, which becomes the eventual shift in the narrative. In an attempt to incite a gang war between the Indonesian and Japanese mafias in Jakarta, loyalties are tested, secrets revealed and a lot of blood is shed.
In all honesty, after seeing The Raid, had I not known Gareth Evans had also written and directed The Raid 2 I would have assumed the film had the same fight choreographer and a brand new writer and director. As it turns out, Evans had written and damn near choreographed this entire film (previously titled Berandal) before ever coming up with the idea for The Raid. Due to the size and scope of the project, however, it was decided a smaller film should be made first, thus, The Raid, which eventually became a prequel to this film.
The story here is definitely something you’ll be familiar with as there are really only so many ways to tell the story of an undercover cop infiltrating a mob enterprise, but Evans brings not only that signature action that was so highly praised after The Raid, but he has a unique style and an impressive level of patience in his storytelling that I never would have expected.
Evans definitely borrows a lot of action techniques from his heroes such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and a love of blunt violence in the same vein as Sam Peckinpah, but stylistically we has a similar watchful eye and love of distinct colors (eye-popping red chief among them) such as what we’ve seen recently from Nicolas Winding Refn.
While serving as the star once again, Uwais along with Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman and Very Tri Yulisman are among the film’s various fight choreographers (credited or otherwise) and this is where The Raid 2 really goes beyond its predecessor. The fights are still beautifully staged and delivering excellent “punch lines” as Evans refers to those specific action beats where the audience is likely to jump back and say, “Damn!” such as when a baseball bat is lodged into a victim’s face. The difference is the fights are part of the story in the same way music and songs contribute to a good musical.
A good musical isn’t song after song after song, it’s a marriage of music and narrative and once the cast starts singing, that narrative continues not only in the song, but beyond it. Evans and his fight choreographers have accomplished the same thing here only songs have been replaced with all out action, though it’s action that compliments its characters and advances the story.
A muddy prison yard fight, a kitchen is turned bloody in a brutal one-on-one battle, characters such as Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Yulisman) are far more than just cheesy thugs, instead serving as exciting henchmen in their own right. And a shotgun goes to good bloody use in a payoff moment you won’t soon forget.
What surprised me even more is how my favorite action piece was the one having the least to do with martial arts as Evans and car stunt coordinator Bruce Law put together one hell of an amazing car chase scene with one moment specifically blowing me away as the camera goes from inside one car to the inside and through a trailing vehicle all while punches are being thrown and bullets are being fired.
Evans is able to hold on these action sequences so long, and paces the narrative in such a way, that the action isn’t on a timeline. It’s not a matter of inserting a piece of violence or an action beat just because there hasn’t been one in ten minutes. The action serves the story as opposed to the other way around, a distinct difference when compared to the first film and while the story may be a little cliche, the action and Evans’ directorial style sell this one whole-heartedly.
Working on a budget of only $4.5 million it’s astonishing how much better this film is than damn near any action film I’ve seen in years. The car chase scene alone is more thrilling than anything I’ve seen in any of the Fast & Furious movies and those are carrying budgets north of $150 million with anything and everything at their disposal.
Before I started watching The Raid 2 I wouldn’t have minded never seeing it, but now I’m even contemplating a reassessment of the first film and excited to see what Evans can do with a third, should it come to that. Evans clearly has a mind for action and a patience for story, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.