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Non-Review Review: The Raid 2

The Raid is a modern action classic. It’s a rather simple premise executed with incredible flair – a bunch of cops find themselves trapped in a high-raise tower with an army of organised thugs, forced to fight their way to freedom. It’s not the most original of plots, but it works quite well as a framework upon which to hang some genuinely breathtaking martial arts set pieces. It was a showcase for director Gareth Evans and fight choreographers Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian.

The Raid 2 has much to recommend it – with Evans and his collaborators dramatically increasing the mayhem captured on screen. There are any number of memorable fight sequences contained within the film, with Evans, Uwais and Ruhian finding all sorts creative manners of dispatch. The stunts are bigger, the scale larger and the ambition more palpable. In terms of sheer action quotient, the bar has been well and truly raised.

It is a bit of a bloody mess...

It is a bit of a bloody mess…

Unfortunately, The Raid 2 lacks the elegant simplicity of its predecessor. Confined to a single building for one hundred minutes, The Raid was tight and claustrophobic – moving like a locomotive. Running almost an hour longer, The Raid 2 is rather bloated and overstated. Evans’ ambition extends beyond stunt work and fight sequences, and so he tries to craft a crime epic that seems half-way between Infernal Affairs and Only God Forgives, lacking the humanity of the former and the operatic sensibilities of the later.

The result is an overblown mess of a film that really comes together for a powerhouse final forty minutes. The last act of The Raid 2 manages to capture the frantic momentum of the first film, with a sense of constantly escalating scale and brutality. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t quite measure up.

Raiding the pantry...

Raiding the pantry…

To be fair, sequels to high-concept action movies are difficult. Even the title of The Raid 2 seems to confine the film. The original was built around a rather basic premise – a botched police raid that devolved into bloody martial arts carnage. Constructing a sequel was always going to be tough. What options did Evans have? Would it be about another failed raid on another gangland crook that just happened to involve the same character? That would be one massive contrived coincidence.

Perhaps Rama could buddy up with John McClane as a cop that nobody in their right mind would want in any potentially risky situation, whose mere presence seemed to invite calamity; as if Rama existed as some weird magnet for botched police raids. So it’s easy to see why Evans opted to make The Raid 2 a radically different film, expanding the story’s scope beyond one troubled tenement building and into the larger world.

Riding shotgun...

Riding shotgun…

And The Raid 2 certainly has scope. There are prisons and offices and restaurants and warehouses and motor ways that an serve as the staging grounds for all sorts of creative confrontations. The best part of The Raid 2 is the giddy thrill of watching carnage unfold in rather surreal locations. It’s like a martial arts equivalent of Chekov’s gun – a snazzy eye-catching location featured in the first act must feature in at least one hand-to-hand fight by the climax.

The moment that a glass enclosed wine-room appears in the frame, you know what must follow. There’s a charm to all this. Evans and his team have a wonderful knack for constructing brutal knock-down brawls. Like The Raid before it, The Raid 2 treats its martial arts as a genuine artform – the fights are all perfectly measured and paced; there are gasps and giggles; each fight moves to its own tempo; there’s a rhythm to it, the sound of flesh making contact forming something of a musical beat, punctuated with black humour.

Hammer, don't hurt...

Hammer, don’t hurt…

And The Raid 2 works best when it plays up this sort of heightened artform. This is a world where goons have their own themes – watch out for hammer girl and baseball boy! It’s a world where colours are carefully chosen to offer viewers the most visually diverse knock-down brawl – the deep reds of a posh restaurant! the metallic grey of a prestigious kitchen! the off-green of a prison mudpit! In particular, there are several prison-themed sequences that measure up to anything in The Raid and some wonderful use of vehicles towards the end of the film.

Unfortunately, there’s more than fight choreography to The Raid 2. The simple plot of The Raid was a transparent shell designed to house some spectacular action set pieces. The Raid 2 is decidedly more ambitious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Evans is not quite as good at plotting as he is at editing. (And he’s not quite as good at editing storytelling as he is at editing fight sequences.) The Raid 2 is driven by all manner of organised crime clichés – the conflicted undercover cop; the family feud; the hungry younger generation; the moral ambiguity about the police trying to stop these criminals. Sadly, it has no idea what to do with them.

Trying to get a leg up...

Trying to get a leg up…

Structurally, The Raid 2 is just a mess. It’s clear that Evans is trying to construct a truly epic saga, but it all feels too generic. The characters inhabiting his world all feel like archetypes. Ucok is just the latest in the long line of spoilt mob princes who would be kings. Bangun is another level-headed family patriarch who recognises his son’s problems, but seems in denial. Bejo is another usurper, maliciously sewing seeds of mistrust, but come across as a cartoon baddie – with his aviator sunglasses, his leather gloves and his walking stick, he might as well spend the movie cackling to himself.

Of course, these characters are meant to be archetypes, but there’s something clumsy in their construction. They certainly aren’t worth the two-hours-and-a-half that The Raid 2 devotes to them. There are far too many scenes of characters stating the obvious and the movie following clichés to get the plot to where it needs to be. At one point, the film seems to pause itself to introduce us to a goon named Prakoso (played by choreographer and Raid veteran Yayan Ruhian), giving us a clichéd family back story as a means of transparently setting the character up for a rather generic plot beat.

Machete kills (far too much time)...

Machete kills (far too much time)…

Evans’ hand is just a little too clumsy to manage a sprawling crime epic, and much of The Raid 2 feels like padding. Instead of serving as a framework for wonderful fight sequences, the plot winds up feeling like unnecessary space between them. The fact that the movie spends so much time on a generic plot with fairly standard characters causes all sorts of problems. For one thing, we’re told early on that Rama is going after a corrupt cop named Reza – but Reza seems to barely feature in the film until the climax.

The attempt to tell an epic crime story also causes plotting problems. At one point, Rama wonders how all his undercover work isn’t enough to land convictions; it’s hard to disagree given how much skull-cracking he does. We’re given some nonsense explanation about how the police want the big fish, ignoring that Rama has spent time in the company of Bangun while all sorts of shady things were going on. (Nothing says “subtext!” like a paternal conversation while your goons dispose of a body in the background.)

Martial (arts) law...

Martial (arts) law…

The problem is compounded by the fact that Evans seems to by trying for a suitably gaudy operatic vibe – as trying to channel the brightly-coloured excesses of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. There’s some wonderful use of colour here. Lots of reds and greens, in contrast to the greys and blues of the first film. There are some stunningly memorable images – a dinner between Ucok and Bejo is framed beautifully in a red room with white fixtures – complete with lovely shots of Bejo’s black gloves resting a silver knife on the pristine table-cloth. (Similarly, people wait for phone calls in rooms lit and wallpapered atmospherically.)

The visuals are quite nice, but Evans never quite commits to the sort of heightened storytelling that such a style demands. Much of his use of the imagery seems almost cliché. From the moment that we notice white snow falling in a deserted alleyway, we wait for the torrents of blood to spill upon it. If you’re going to use that sort of wonderfully over-the-top visual style, you may as well go all in. Unfortunately, Evans is too busy wading into crime thriller clichés.

If you can't stand the heat...

If you can’t stand the heat…

The Raid 2 does feature some spectacular work. There are moments when the action captures the raw appeal of the original. Unfortunately, there is also considerable space between those moments.

2 Responses

  1. Great review. Such a great expansive sequel and its a real shame more people didnt see it. Still we liked it 😀

    • I don’t know. I think it had some great ideas and great cinematography, but I’m not sure it managed to achieve the scale that it wanted.

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