Sometimes bigger is indeed better. Whereas Gareth Evans’ breakout film THE RAID astounded audiences and critics alike by giving them a visceral and pulse-pounding experience that made up for its modest budget with ingenious filming techniques and clever scripting. THE RAID 2 has been given a welcome financial boost which allows for Evans to put his wildest, bloodiest dreams up on screen. Whereas the first film was small-scale, tense and personal, the sequel is far grander in scale, infinitely more complex in plot and thematic exploration. Also, violence-wise, it astoundingly makes the first film seem rather tame.
A few hours after Rama’s (Iko Uwais) almost single-handed purge of a drug gang’s tower block, he is recruited by Bunawar (Cok Simbara) who heads the anti-corruption unit of Jakarta’s police, to go undercover and shadow Uco (Arifin Putra), the ambitious son of infamous mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) in the hopes of flushing out corrupt officials. Once out of prison, Rama infiltrates Bangun’s outfit while Uco and devious criminal mastermind Bejo (Alex Abbad) engineers a war between Bangun’s crime family and their underworld rivals, the Japanese Gotos.
The layered, twisty-turny crime epic plot, in addition to the film’s general aesthetic and tone echoes some great films like INFERNAL AFFAIRS, HARDBOILED and the GODFATHER, and even when these shoutouts become explicit, you don’t begrudge Evans for showing off how well read in film terms he is, and his own movie ends up being an able competitor to these classics. The film is a lot longer than its predecessor, but there’s a lot more story to tell, a lot more plot points and character exploration to cover, so it doesn’t feel overlong. It’s intricately plotted, with surprises coming out of left-field and fully formed, fascinating characters of various moral shades of grey (along with a few outright monsters) driving the story.
The action highlights undoubtedly come from the genius character creations of sibling assassin team Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman). They’re both terrifying, and use their chosen weapons to deadly and sickening effect, and steal every scene they’re in. The pair even allow for a touch of jet-black humour in how they mock their prey before moving in for the kill, and in how obsessively attached they are to their unusual weapons of choice.
On the stunning final fight between Rama and the Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman), I’ve never seen a movie scrap where two opponents are trying harder to not die. Uwais gratifyingly has to flex his dramatic muscles this time round as well as his actual muscles, particularly in a moving scene where, after his two-year imprisonment, Rama calls his wife (Fikha Effendi) and asks to simply listen to his young son playing in the background. Rahman, a Silat champion and not a professional actor, is a real find, and makes the Assassin an utterly terrifying antagonist, while Estelle and Yulisman play two of the most over-the-top and entertaining henchmen outside of a JAMES BOND film. Speaking of Bond films, Alex Abbad’s Bejo, with his supportive cane and black leather gloves is straight out of one. Arifin Putra is also one to watch, stealing every scene he’s in, and making Uco far more complex and memorable than the standard jealous son of a movie mob boss.
Evans well deserves his current crown as the best action director working today. As he’s stated in interviews, he can’t fight or act, so the logical move was to go into directing. Though he doesn’t do martial arts himself, as a martial arts fan and a talented visual artist, he knows what looks good. He works with Iko Uwais and actor-choreographer Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog from the first film) closely – he has a firm idea about what he wants to see, and it’s up to Uwais and Ruhian to know whether it’s feasible to execute in reality. Speaking of Ruhian, he plays a different character in this film (since Mad Dog is a little bit dead) who is the moral antithesis of the ruthless psycho he so recently inhabited, with a completely different physicality and motivation. It also seems like Ruhian is in a contest of one-upmanship with Uwais in their action scenes – who can take out the most henchmen lining up for a pasting in a single scene?
I did have a slight issue with something that happens in the first five minutes of the film, which somewhat undermines the emotional journey of the first Raid, but I didn’t dwell on it and was happily distracted again before long.
The Raid 2 is an equally disgusting and beautifully violent film. I remember thinking when I saw the first film that it should have been subtitled “The Fine Art of Ultraviolence”. This film perhaps should be subtitled “The Fine Art of Oh Jesus Did You See That?!” It’s one of the most violent I’ve ever seen, but it’s so over-the-top and creative in its brutality that you’re more hypnotised than horrified. It’s a marvel of craftsmanship, and, rarely for an action film, of character as well. We’ve known for years that Gareth Evans is a ludicrously talented action director and editor, but The Raid 2 proves he’s nearly as talented as a writer. Where will his promising career lead next? But maybe give us a bit of a breather before THE RAID 3, eh Gareth? SSP