Posted by: themoviecheese | April 14, 2014

“The Raid 2” Review

The Raid 2 Review
by Tom Stewart (TheMovieCheese.net)

Title: The Raid 2
Stars: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Run time: 150 minutes
Rating: 18
Genre: Martial Arts/Crime/Action

Welsh-born director Gareth Evans first came to our attention with his hugely successful 2011 action movie The Raid. His first film Merantau (also starring usual collaborator Iko Uwais) barely broke DVD sales, despite being an excellent impression of Evans’ style of action directing coupled with Uwais’ intricate martial arts choreography. It was Indonesian film The Raid that left action junkies spellbound and brought Evans to the forefront of martial arts cinema, effectively making it mainstream again, in the same way that The Matrix did back in 1999. Very quickly, talks of a Hollywood remake were being uttered, and then Evans himself announced a sequel.

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Rama (Iko Uwais) vs. The Assassin (Cecep Rahman)

The Raid 2 has been out now for a couple of months (in various territories, around a week in the UK) and so the internet is awash with reviews. It’s rotten tomatoes score currently stand at a positive 80%. The trailers wowed everyone and pointed towards a much bigger complex story line when compared to the low-key, single location narrative of the first film. People were calling it the “greatest action movie since Die Hard” before it had even been released. The first screenings at 2014’s Sundance Film Festival had everyone going mental on twitter, claiming it to be the most eclectic movie they’d ever seen. “Absolutely amazing!!”, “Greatest action movie ever made!” and “The Departed crossed with Kill Bill!” were among some of the thousands of tweets from Sundance goers.

However, when the film was released commercially, the professional reviews were telling another story. Whilst they were largely positive (80% on RT, 8.9 on IMDB), they pointed out various flaws and worries that they stated almost overshadowed the action for them. The complexities and extended run time meant that the film flew over certain critics’ heads, causing them to enjoy the fight scenes, but not really care. And so, as a huge fan of both Merantau and The Raid, and Gareth Evans in general…I was worried. Would I have these same views? Then I remembered three very important facts: 1. I love martial arts. The Raid 2 is a martial arts movie…2. I love crime dramas. The Raid 2 is also a crime drama…3. Gareth Evans is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors. The Raid 2 is directed by Gareth Evans. This whole situation has taught me, as it has taught us all from time to time, that sometimes-no, most of the time, we just don’t agree with what we read. I expected The Raid 2 to be overlong…it wasn’t. I expected the story to feel contrived and messy…it didn’t. I expected some of the set pieces to feel ridiculous…they didn’t. I expected all of this and got none of it. What I did get is one of the best action movies of the past decade, and possibly the greatest example of on-screen martial arts choreography of all time.

Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog in The Raid) returns as different character "Koto"

Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog in The Raid) returns as different character “Koto”

I don’t class myself as a film critic, or even a film aficionado. I’m just a guy who loves movies and enjoys writing about them. However, martial arts cinema is another matter. I class myself as somebody who really studies the choreography in action films and always have. The choreography in The Raid was amazing. The choreography in its sequel, however, is something else entirely. Evans’ pacing is absolutely masterful, morphing each fight sequence into a screen dance the likes of which we would see in a Broadway musical. Fusing impeccable timing with teeth-grinding brutality sends your senses into overdrive. Evans’ film crew don’t simply *hold* the camera when shooting action, they *wield* it – treating it as a weapon within the film itself and treating themselves as characters caught up in the chaotic madness on screen.

The Raid 2 is bigger and better than its predecessor in absolutely every sense of both words. Adding a heft of much-needed complexity to Rama’s (Iko Uwais) continuing story line means we are treated to extended emotions that were admittedly absent from the first film. Opening mere moment from the closing of the first outing, The Raid 2 sees rookie cop Rama in a meeting with one of his superiors after tearing down an entire building of drug dealers in the first film. He is told that his one-man army victory was nothing compared to the bigger picture. There are much bigger, badder organisations out there that his initial bust were just a small part of. Rama is given a new task (fueled by revenge) to go deep undercover into these new organisations, first by being arrested and placed in prison where he will befriend a boss’ son, thereby gaining access into their violent family upon release from prison. What follows is part Infernal Affairs, part Game of Death as Rama’s mission soon goes way over his head before being pitted against dangerous mob bosses, a seedy puppeteer orchestrating a drug war, and several Tarantino-esque deadly assassins.

Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman)

Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman)

I live for films like this. The Raid 2 is a film that chooses character over story, and uses its unique outfit of characters to move the narrative along. A film that is completely reliant on its characters influencing the story rather than the story influencing itself. That is why I took to The Raid so highly. Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs is one of my favorite foreign films of all time, and The Raid 2 reminded me so much of it. You know, if Infernal Affairs was filled with balletic, blood drenching fight sequences. Oh yes, the action. What starts with a bone-cruncher featuring Rama taking on 20-30 guys in one toilet cubicle (no shit) quickly ascends into a series of some of the greatest action set pieces ever committed to celluloid. Inmate vs guard warfare in a mud drenched prison yard, a trio of hilarious assassin takedowns, a couple of car chases that put the Fast & Furious series to shame and a Kitchen-set one on one fight scene featuring some of the absolute best choreography and fight pacing I’ve *ever* seen are just a few of the highlights. With absolutely no CGI in sight, Evans stretches his film’s budget and restrictions to the absolute limit. Whether its steel-grinding car chases or gravity defying stunts, The Raid 2 has every morsel of your jaw glued to the floor for its entire run time; and that’s *some* run time. At 150 minutes, The Raid 2 is almost a full hour longer than its predecessor. At no point did I really feel it was too long however. Admittedly there are certain sequences that seem to linger a little too long. Evans edits all of his films himself and he does seem to love his regular cinematographer Matt Flannery’s work just a little too much. The bulk of the film, however, feels absolutely necessary.

As I said earlier, The Raid 2 is once again a character piece with a genuinely unique mix of supporting characters. Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog in the first film) returns as a different character known only as “Koto”; a long scraggly haired, machete-wielding, hobo jacket-wearing badass with possibly the most emotional and relatable back story in the whole film. Newcomer Cecep Rahman pops up as an extremely deadly dual-knife-wielding assassin, and then there are The Twins: a brother-sister duo of assassins known only as Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl. Whenever these two are on screen you will struggle to keep a straight facial expression – either laughing hysterically at the way they dispatch their victims, or wincing at the extremely violent way they, well, dispatch their victims. And then there’s Rama (Iko Uwais) himself. Uwais returns with the same unquestionable amount of screen-presence and physical dexterity that he possessed in the first film. Indonesia’s answer to Jet Li, he is an impossibly fast and brutal tour de force who smacks badguys to the ground as if their bodies are made of wet tissue. It’s a credit to Rama that all the main supporting characters fight with gimmicks (hammers, bats, knives, machetes etc), as that gives each of Rama’s techniques an old school flavor, as he relies on his expertly trained Indonesian Silat.

Hammer time! Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) brings the pain

Hammer time! Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) brings the pain

If there are any flaws to be found, they are minor and certainly not the ones mentioned in a number of online reviews. I would of liked a short bridging sequence at the beginning, maybe even just tack on the final shot of The Raid where Rama is exiting the building’s main gate with his wounded comrades. An early motivation of revenge that fuels the first third of the film is very quickly forgotten about, and there are many instances where you can’t help but think “Why does nobody have a gun right now?”. The film also closes on an obvious set-up for the recently announced third film – but such complaints (whilst valid) are meaningless in a film filled with such sense-bending madness.

In Conclusion
Gareth Evans has returned to his masterful trilogy with a near masterpiece of modern action cinema. In an era of action films that are plagued by questionable CGI, muscle-less teenage superheros, cocky narcissists and 70-year old geriatrics who are way past their prime; The Raid 2 has spin-kicked its way onto our screens to remind us of what we used to love about action cinema and give us a glimpse of what the future of action could hold if more directors like Evans were on the scene. With balletic gunplay, impeccable martial arts choreography and a complex almost Shakespearean tale of waring gangs and families, The Raid 2 is unquestionably (and will probably remain) the very best action film of 2014.
Rating: 9/10

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