By Linc Leifeste | April 14, 2014
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Donny Alamsyah, Oka Antara, Alex Abbad, Tio Pakusodewo, Julie Estelle, Cecep Arif Rahman
Let me get this out of the way right up front: I am not the target audience for Gareth Evans’ bone-crunchingly violent martial arts film, The Raid 2. I’m not generally a huge fan of ultra-violence or martial arts films or films that value style over substance and fighting skills over acting skills. But the thing of it is I absolutely, unapologetically loved The Raid: Redemption, a film that was just as violent and just as light on plot (okay, lighter, which worked to its advantage, but more on that later) but struck me as highly original, clever, tautly suspenseful and stylistically masterful. No doubt the anticipation I felt for Evan’s follow-up served to further ramp up the disappointment I felt after sitting through the two and a half hour bore of a bloodbath.
The film picks up where it’s predecessor had left off, with Rama (Iko Uwais), having just survived the raid on crime-lord Tama’s high-rise headquarters. There’s no rest for the weary, as he is immediately tasked with going undercover in prison to befriend Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), and uncovering a muddle of corrupt cops. Early on, the film riffs on its predecessor’s sense of claustrophobia when Rama is forced to take on a veritable army of attackers in his cramped cell, at times cleverly shot from above to give the viewer a birds-eye view of the melee. There’s soon another epic battle in the prison’s muddy yard, where Rama accomplishes his task of befriending Uco.
From there the film jumps forward two years when Rama is finally released from prison, allowing him to proceed with his takedown of Uco and Bangun. There’s a passing nod to his poor wife and infant child who have had no knowledge of his whereabouts, but it mostly feels like an aside, a momentary distraction from the film’s main theme: endless fighting. In keeping with the film’s focus, I won’t bore you with more plot recap. Suffice it to say that Rama and the dueling crime lords of the film break a lot of bones, using predominantly hands, elbows and feet but also forearms, knees, baseball bats,hammers and so forth and so on. Yawn.
Lord knows I’m not a prude when it comes to violence but I do have my limits. Where The Raid ran a taut 100 minutes and didn’t attempt to do much with plot, thus allowing the actors to mostly shine via their physicality, with limited dialogue, The Raid 2 runs a bloated 150 minutes and is hindered by murky plot lines and painfully melodramatic overacting. And where the original masterfully combined action with horror and suspense elements, literally leaving me on the edge of my seat for much of the film, the follow-up simply combines ultra-violent fighting with more ultra-violent fighting (admittedly with a truly clever car chase/fight sequence thrown in), such that by the time Rama’s climactic battle with a deadly uber-assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman) painfully (for the fighters and for this viewer) played out, I was daydreaming about watching anything but yet another fight.
All of that said, I’m inclined to think that for fans of ultra-violent action films, generally, and martial arts films, in particular, The Raid 2 just might be seen as a masterpiece. For those of you who don’t particularly value plot, acting, suspense or character development but salivate at the thought of brilliantly choreographed bone-snapping hand to hand combat, gun fights, car chases, etc. and who might be prone to appreciate the marriage of music video quick-cut aesthetics and adrenaline-pumping first-person video games drawn out to a 150-minute running-time, ignore everything I’ve said and just make a beeline for the theater.