If you haven’t seen the 2011 film The Raid, I suggest that you do so now. Its bottle film premise about a lone police officer in Indonesia fighting his way to the top of a fourteen story tenement house to confront a crime lord is a pulse-pounding, cringe-inducing martial arts fever dream that will leave you breathless. Though the previous sentence may seem filled with hyperbolic, critical buzzwords, I speak the truth (at least in my opinion). Though The Raid is one of the best martial arts films ever made, its premise admittedly allowed it to forego much in terms of plot.
The same cannot be said for its sequel. The Raid 2 (called The Raid 2: Berandal in foreign territories) represents the pinnacle of the action film. It accomplishes this feat in that, firstly, it is a great film. On a technical level, the cinematography is beautiful and memorable. The set design is evocative of the characters in each scene, creating a setting that at once feels real and fantastical. In terms of following the action at hand, the film is masterfully edited and sprinkled with a few truly inspired and inexplicable camera moves that left me scratching my head and smiling with pure, childlike joy. Moving on to the story, often when discussing films like this, one will shrug off plot problems, stating rather glibly that, “It’s just an action film.” I would consider this diminishing, much in the same way that people often deny that science fiction or fantasy are literature. What makes The Raid 2 impressive is its scale; it is an expansion of the world of The Raid, explaining and further exploring the mythology established in the first film in an intelligent and intuitive manner. Consequences from the characters’ actions in the first film occur in the way one would imagine in such a brutal and merciless world, setting into motion the cogs of the crime epic that is The Raid 2. The film’s success (aside from the choreography, which I’ll touch on later) can largely be attributed to writer/director/editor Gareth Evans, who somehow exceeds the efforts of his previous film, while also proving that he is a skilled dramatic filmmaker and capable writer.
In the vein of The Departed and its Chinese inspiration, Infernal Affairs, The Raid 2 is a crime film about subterfuge and deception. Iko Uwais reprises his role as the indefatigable Rama, who having become privy to certain underworld secrets in the first film, is forced to go deep undercover to secure the safety of his family. During a prolonged prison stint, he befriends Uco, the bitter son of one of the two crime lords controlling the city. Arifin Putra portrays Uco with a powerful mixture of charisma and petulance, as Uco struggles with the idea of legacy, angered that he is only ever measured by the accomplishments of his father. The aforementioned father, Bangun, portrayed with subtlety and intelligence by Tio Pakusodewo, is a man who has lived through violence and has no wish to experience it again. When Uco makes a decision that complicates him and his father’s relationship with their longtime Japanese rivals, it is up to Rama to fight his way through the bloody aftermath in an effort to stop what Uco has set into motion and avenge the death of a character from the first film.
Iko Uwais is great as Rama, providing a human edge to the violence that makes him a hero that can be forgiven for killing droves of enemies throughout the film. Never does he engage in violence without purpose and even in doing so he usually seems displeased by the result. Uwais is allowed some more room to flex his acting chops in this film and I found his performance to be both compelling and believable. Though Rama is interesting as the conflicted hero at the center of this tale, the supporting characters that populate this world help to further reinforce the hyper reality in which the story takes place. Bangun’s longtime hitman, Prakoso (played by Yayan Ruhian, who was also Mad Dog in the first film) looks like a homeless man and wields a machete, killing to support his divorced wife and estranged son. A pair of sibling assassins, appropriately called Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, (played by Julie Estelle and Very Tri Yulisman respectively) kill people in ways that will have the audience cringing with glee. They’re ridiculous characters, but they fit into this twisted world that Gareth Evans has created.
The violence in which Rama and the other characters partake is uncompromising, brutal, and brilliant. Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais’ choreography is jaw-dropping, their ballet of violence realistic and extreme at the same time. There are no one-liners here and nary a gun in sight (which makes sense considering the ownership of guns in Indonesia is illegal and their procurement is extremely difficult, even for criminals). Though story beats follow between each action set piece, their placement is both intuitive and logical, with each contributing to the story at hand. The amount of times that The Raid 2 ups the ante is ridiculous, even considering its two-and-a-half hour length. From an operatic prison fight in a muddy field, to a four-on-one brawl inside a car, to Rama’s duel with both Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man in a hallway, and onward to the film’s ridiculous and awe-inspiring final one-on-one fight in a restaurant kitchen, The Raid 2 will satisfy anyone who love a bit of beautiful, bloody mayhem. Also, unlike most action movies, there is a certain measure of reality when it comes to the carnage. In knife fights, people get cut and bleed profusely. Faces bruise and skin splits when people repeatedly get punched in the face. Cause and effect.
I loved The Raid 2. It may just be my favorite action film of all time. However, I would caution that if for some reason you deplore plot, abhor actual character motivation, despise reading (this film has subtitles), and have the attention span of a small child, do not see this film. It is a martial arts action film, yes; but beyond that, it is also a film with an involved plot, many characters, and (*gasp*) actual stakes. Yet if these unfortunate characteristics do not apply to you, then treat yourself to what may be one of the best times you’ll ever have in a theatre and go see this film.