I can’t really recall a time that this has happened before. I have heard of sequels improving on the original before (“Spider-Man 2”, “Goldfinger”, even “Kill Bill Vol.2” as just a few debatable examples) but never to this degree. “The Raid: Redemption” was one of the most beloved action films to have come out in the past few years, and it took many by surprise as it was indeed a low budget foreign film that found significant success overseas. It’s no secret, I hated it, and I still do. I could see why people loved it but it wasn’t for me because people loved it for only one reason, the action. The problem was that if you weren’t a hardcore action — with an emphasis on martial arts — fan then there is almost nothing to enjoy. I can gladly say that Gareth Evans has increased his scope and made a truly stunning martial arts film, that improves on literally everything the original did. I mean it, there is not one thing worse.
In the first 30 minutes of “The Raid” there was evidence that Gareth Evans knew how to use a camera, but he ditched that for the most part besides keeping it well held during the action sequences. “The Raid 2” has been the template that has allowed Evans to really go for broke and make the best film he possibly could, and I am genuinely excited to see what else he brings to the table.
Rama (Iko Uwais) is back immediately after the events of the first film and he is essentially the only character that makes it over to this film (Pierre Gruno’s Wayhu and Donny Alamsyah’s Andi — Rama’s brother — are killed off nearly instantly. Maybe this signifies Evans cutting all ties to his initial film? One can hope.) Rama is hired by a man called Bunawar (Cok Simbara) to join his anti-corruption task force, Rama agrees to infiltrate the Bangun clan and is thrown in prison as part of his cover but also because Bangun’s (Tio Pakusodewo) son Uco (Arifin Putra) is also serving time inside.
Before I go any further I have to mention how good the prison segment is. I was pleasantly surprised when the first fight in the film between Rama and many, many prisoners was in a narrow cubicle. The first movie was almost entirely corridors! This limitation that forces a change in Rama’s fighting style was instantly refreshing and I couldn’t help but appreciate it. Also a there is a huge battle in the prison grounds that starts between Rama and some enemy prisoners and then extends to being between every prisoner and the prison guards. The ankle deep mud in this scene improves it vastly, and there is a huge segment of it that is just on shot. The complexity of the huge scale fight as well as just the one-on-one battles are mind-blowing. How they managed to get a shot like this in is beyond me, but it had me.
Rama manages to make it out of prison and infiltrate the Bangun clan with Uco. He is sent on jobs and is charged with protecting the ambitious Uco by his father. Meanwhile, Uco is caught up in a plot by the head of another gang led by Bejo (Alex Abbad) who intends to pit the Bangun’s and the Japanese gangs against each other for his own benefit. This is all overseen by Reza (Roy Marten) who is the corrupt police commissioner and the primary target of Rama. Uco helps stage a false attack on Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian), the Bangun’s loyal henchmen, and also a fake retaliation against the Japanese from the Banguns.
It is clear enough to see that “The Raid 2” not only actually has a plot this time but it is actually a good one! I knew who each character was and even when I forgot their names I was swiftly reminded in the scene after. It does a decent job of keeping the audience up to date with whats happening whilst also being reasonably complex and engaging. Sometimes it is a little tough to keep up and that early plot summary I just did was a little hard to recall the itty bitty bits of, but overall I understood it and enjoyed it.
Rama has also been given some extra depth too. He has been forced to cut ties from his wife and unfortunately ends up in prison for over two years, as opposed to the few months he expected. When out he hesitates to make a phone call to his wife and it’s a risk that I cared about, he does indeed do it and part of you knows the risks but you can’t help but feel for the guy. Where “The Raid: Redemption” made you wince and yawn, “The Raid 2” makes you wince (even more so) but also feel.
I actually am shocked at how gorgeous the cinematography in this film is, and I don’t just mean outside of the excellently choreographed action sequences. Extra colour along with a grander scope allow Evans to create some truly fantastic scenes. A scene where a character sits int he corner of a dark room lit by an ambient red light, I was honestly reminded of the use of the colour green in “Vertigo” (only reminded, it isn’t quite that good) which was superb. “The Raid 2” is beautiful, and Evans also knows how to show restraint when it comes to scenes where violence is taking place but the character interaction is the central focus. I’m chiefly referring to a scene in which Uco is discussing plans with Bejo and is simultaneously slitting the throats of the prisoners that attacked him previously. It gives the scene a welcome intensity, and that is never a bad thing.
It is even more violent than the first film. This will be a deal breaker for the squeamish and even those that just aren’t that into action. As someone that can appreciate violence with regards to the films other strengths I had no problem with it. It gives the fights a certain impact that can be hard to portray when so many punches are thrown in so little a time.
Much of the film of course is action, fans of the original films endless action will find a change here but there is still enough that I don’t think they will be disappointed. the fights are excellently paced throughout the film and instead of always being in a corridor almost every fight was in a different location with different gimmicks. A night club fight introduces new levels of verticality, a fantastic car chase restricts movement whilst increasing speed and an extended kitchen fight near the end is relentless in its visceral assault. Both characters involved take significant damage and it doesn’t feel clear cut who will actually pull through, which I thoroughly enjoy.
There are a few issues with the plot and it is a little confusing but as a martial arts movie — which is what it set out to be and is what every fan wanted from the sequel — it is almost unparalleled. I am extremely pleased to say that “The Raid 2” is the best martial arts movie since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and even those that despised the original should seriously consider giving it a try. There is a little something here for everybody, and a lot for many.