I didn’t know much about The Raid 2 (or The Raid: Berandal) prior to it’s release. Yes, I loved The Raid Redemption so much that after my initial viewing, I bought another ticket for the next available showing. I also saw the initial trailer, but other than that, I walked in blind. Truth be told, if the season finale of The Walking Dead wasn’t on the same night I saw this and the trains weren’t so damn slow, I would’ve gone right back in for The Raid 2. I know I’ll go back to it later this week, that’s for sure.
Here’s the short of it: The Raid 2 gives you all of the great martial arts from its predecessor (thanks to Choreographers and stars Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, along with writer/director Gareth Evans). The fight scenes are incredibly fluid and well choreographed, some ramped up way past what the first movie delivered. The film also manages to build a story so big that it almost reaches levels akin to Michael Mann’s Heat. That story length also threatens to hurt the film. Where Redemption was a tight package, the sequel has a 2 1/2 hour-long running time. It moves like an Opera, and as such, there maybe at least one chapter where you kind of wonder where it’s all going and why it’s moving in the chosen direction. The film does a great job of righting itself afterward and everything syncs up.
It’s an absolute fight to keep myself from going into every fight and saying “Did you catch that part when..?! Omigod, wasn’t that awesome!” No spoilers here, but this is one time where I wish I could. This review’s vague on purpose.
Taking place just hours after the events of Redemption, The Raid 2 finds supercop Rama (Iko Uwais) working undercover between 2 rival mob families and trying to weed out rogue cops. The premise sounds simple, but the movie is pretty layered. Just how deep can Rama go without exposing himself or losing his humanity? In this sense, a lot of the writing pays homage to movies like Donnie Brasco, The Godfather and The Departed (or Internal Affairs, which The Departed was based on). This is all you really need to know about the plot itself, it’s a crime drama. How it conveys the story on-screen is something else entirely.
The balance between the action and drama is pretty even. Each dramatic moment seems to fit well to the ones before and after it. While there maybe one or two areas that require a huge suspension of belief (a person can bleed profusely and still manage to cause a wave of destruction), but depending on one’s mindset, these can be forgiven…or not. Evans chooses his shots carefully, and in some places it’s downright beautiful – especially in an area that focuses on three assassins with a particular skillset.
The fight scenes are rapid fire moments of hard-hitting shots and bloodshed that may have you wincing or even cheering (like my audience). People are sliced, shot, beaten to a pulp and your jaw may drop at the inventive ways a bat or hammer can be used. In some cases, it takes Close Quarters Combat in as tight as you can possibly get, using camera work that moves above, around and even inside the action when working with multiple fights. The camera isn’t so fast that it suffers from the Bourne Identity/Batman Begins fight blur, but it’s not static either. Remember that free roaming camera technique used in the car ride from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds? There’s a similar usage here that’s beautiful, but in the midst of all that stunt work, one has to wonder if anyone was seriously hurt. The audience lost their minds when Yayan Ruhian appeared, playing a character separate from Mad Dog in Redemption, and our showing ended with a half standing ovation. Not bad for a film focused on fighting.
If you understand that The Raid 2 is hyper-violent, it’s perfectly okay. It’s almost expected, and it works out so very well.
Basically, if you either went to see the The Raid: Redemption and/or enjoyed that film, there’s no reason to avoid The Raid 2. I honestly didn’t think it could get better than the first film and am happily surprised that it has. The film is in a limited release in New York and Los Angeles for now, moving to a wider release on April 11th.