The Raid 2 is a beautifully brutal ballet, a symphony of destruction if you will, masterfully choreographed with the grace of Swan Lake – just with a tad more blood, broken bodies, and blown open skulls. Gareth Evans follows one of the best action movies in years (The Raid) with an action sequel that makes the Mad Dog tag team rumble seem like child’s play – an inconceivable task. Evans expands upon his universe, abandoning the one building setting, and is able to create vibrant characters and captivating surroundings – but we’re here for the ass kicking. The Raid 2 is stylish, relentless, pulse-pounding action that packs a heavyweight punch, leaving the competition bloody, bruised, and begging for mercy. You’re not going to find action with more fury and flair anywhere else.
Following the events that transpired during The Raid, a somber Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover to sniff out Jakarta-backed police corruption while carrying an ulterior motive. Befriending Ucok (Arifin Putra), the frustrated son of a gangster who believes his time to rule is now, Rama works his way through thugs and assassins while seeking justice and the truth – jeopardizing his life and status as a caring husband/loving father. More killers, bigger bosses, wider reaches – Rama certainly faces mounting odds, but our hero fights furiously to achieve his goal.
Evaluating The Raid 2 as a sequel, Gareth Evans’ film does everything a good sequel should do. The scope grows in size, stakes become higher, risks weigh heavier, and Evans accepts the challenge of breaking his previous action genre high score. When I first saw The Raid, nothing prepared me for Peking Silat martial arts, making sluggish, lumbering bruisers typically portrayed in Hollywood action films seem like slow, harmless teddy bears. The fury at which punches are thrown and the seamless transition from henchman to henchman once again leaves our heads spinning in a fever of snapped limbs, bashed heads, slit throats, and other mortal injuries – but there’s a charismatic art to it all. A memorable quality one can’t ignore. The action becomes a character, whether covered in mud or dried off in an open warehouse, presenting furiously intense action that the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Neeson simply can’t supply.
In my mind, Iko Uwais establishes himself as THE action star to beat, proving The Raid simply wasn’t a strike of luck. I recently gave Liam Neeson credit for confining a fight scene to a simple airplane bathroom in Non-Stop, but Iko laughs maniacally in his face while fending off a massive gang assault in a prison bathroom stall with precise execution. No, not the full bathroom – a single stall. Uwais throws punches faster than I can name 80s action movies, bringing this new breed of action hero to American audiences. Iko is a breed we haven’t experienced before, matching skills much like a young JCVD or Chuck Norris. These guys were heavyweight martial arts champs, real bad dudes you wouldn’t dare cross, but Uwais’ presence, matched with his never-ending arsenal of pain, makes him a reckoning of sorts – a new generation of action hero. If Stallone assembles an Expendables 4 team, Uwais BETTER be the first new name announced – not some Hemsworth hunk.
Aside from Iko Uwais, many other new Indonesian talents assert themselves with strong, immersive performances. Arifin Putra delivers a career kick-starting role as Ucok, which will no doubt launch Putra’s acclaim, playing a “snake in the grass” type fire starter – showing the many sides of the devious Ucok.
Also memorable are Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), named for their methods of punishment. Hammer Girl is obvious, a black widow type character who pulverizes attackers by dual wielding construction tools, but it’s her accomplice who is incredibly more badass, carrying around a baseball bat and a few baseballs – which he smacks at foes. Evans not only establishes bone-crunching action with The Raid 2, but a jovial sense of humor – a throwback feel adding distinct personality.
These are the characters I love to see Evans now implementing, getting away from a simple “cop versus bad guy” mentality. His gangsters now have colorful personas, be it a limping man with a cane, the two unique assassins describe above, or even simply slick businessmen doubling as turncoats. The Raid 2 gives Evans room to breath, and while some story-boarding delayed aggressive action a few minutes too long or caused momentary confusion, once the blood starts spraying it’s as if Evans wipes our brain like an Etch A Sketch, leaving only the glory of victory.
We’re only two films into Gareth Evans’ planned trilogy, yet I can’t help but assume Rama’s exploits will rank among my favorite action franchises. The Raid establishes breathtaking, acrobatic action, and The Raid 2 challenges the previous material for dominance – I can’t possibly fathom what Evans has in store for us next!
The Raid 2 doesn’t succeed because some John McClane protagonist spouts funny lines and saves the day, or cracks an Indiana Jones whip, or gruffly escapes New York like Snake Plissken – it succeeds based on technical merits. Flawless editing that’s invisible during chaotic martial arts scenes, rhythmic fighting that never loses steam, intensely gratifying atmospheric shooting that witnesses every connecting blow – imagination creates, but someone has to capture every minute detail. That man is Gareth Evans – an action maestro redefining how genre movies are appreciated. Keep your explosions and damsels in distress – I prefer my fighting tight and my women bludgeoning thugs with hammers.
While The Raid 2 could have used a tighter script, all is forgiven once Gareth Evans reintroduces us to the same beautiful fight choreography that left action fans drooling throughout The Raid.