Gareth Evans’ sequel to his own Indonesian crime thriller The Raid: Redemption (2011) is probably everything you could want in a bloody, brutal martial arts movie — and more. A lot more. Maybe too much more. The first film was relatively compact in its “30 floors of chaos” setting and 101-minute running time. The Raid 2 is all over Jakarta and then some. It’s also a whopping 150 minutes, making the film something of an endurance test. (Note to Mr. Evans: giving someone the line, “This will never end,” at the 2-hour mark in a movie this long is not wise.) Let’s face it, 2 1/2 hours of violence can be pretty wearing, and the violence here is most certainly not for the squeamish. Some have said that the violence is more extreme and gorier than in the original. Not having seen The Raid in a while, I’m disinclined to weigh in on this. The Raid 2 definitely seems at least … er … juicier than its predecessor, but that may just be the extra 50 minutes. Regardless, it is bloody, it is brutal and it is excessive. Isn’t that what a film like this is supposed to be?
Where The Raid had a very straightforward plot — a police raid that goes wrong thanks to internal corruption — the new film presents the illusion of something far more complex. In fact, some critics have complained that it’s hard to follow. The truth is that its complexity really is an illusion. All we have here is a collection of crime movie tropes: the deep undercover cop, the even deeper undercover cop, warring criminal factions crossing each other’s territories, the hot-headed son who wants to take over his father’s gang, etc.
There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. It’s just been jumbled together to create a Russian novel’s worth of storylines and characters. It’s a beguiling compendium of cliches — a crime thrillers’ greatest hits package on steroids. And much like the original film, it isn’t much more than a movie version of a videogame. What I said about The Raid largely applies here: “The situation is simple — get past a bunch of largely generic machete-wielding bad guys (there are enough machetes here for a dozen Friday the 13th series) and one really unstoppable bad guy to get at the crime lord.” All that has changed, apart from the varied locations, comes in the form of more characters, different weapons and more challenges.
The story picks up almost exactly where The Raid ends and centers on Rama (Iko Uwais), our hero in the first film, who is forced into going undercover in order to bring down the apparently all-pervasive crime syndicates and corrupt police. This requires him to go to prison (for two years, no less) and become the champion of the also incarcerated Uco (Arifin Putra), the power-hungry son of crime lord Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). This, of course, assures Rama a high-level place in the organization upon his release from prison. You can undoubtedly take the plot from there.
The plot, however embellished and involved, is not really what a film like this is all about. You’re here — if you’re here at all — for the action scenes, and the action scenes in The Raid 2 are beyond first-rate. Not only is Gareth Evans a master film stylist — there is rarely an uninteresting composition or an ill-judged camera move — but he actually understands and knows how to edit action. In a world where action is all too often nothing but an incomprehensible mess of close-shots thoughtlessly slapped together, seeing well-constructed scenes is a treat in itself. There is, in fact, a car chase scene here that is on the far side of absurd — starting with the fact that one of the drivers has just been shot in the knee — but it is so brilliantly and breathlessly constructed that it feels real. It is certainly exciting. Questions arise, however. The first is how much of this sort of thing you can take before a kind of numb overkill sets in? When is it one fight too many? More of a problem for me is the tendency for individual fights to go on so long that my mind wanders, and that’s increasingly the case here. Your mileage may be greater than mine, but as a martial arts action picture The Raid 2 is about as good it gets. For some, it may even be the ne plus ultra. Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas.