The Raid hit action fans like a bomb in 2012. The Indonesian crime flick had as simple a set-up as could be imagined – a handful of cops have to fight their way through a multi-storey tenement building searching for both escape and the crime boss at the top (such a simple set-up, in fact, that the same year’s Dredd had the same scenario, completely independently). But what elevated it was its incredible fight scenes – as fast as they were brutal, with its energetic and fluid camerawork an antidote to a genre overtaken by incoherent shaky cam vignettes.
The film took the festival circuit by storm and became a global cult hit. In the process, expectations grew exponentially for the sequel as director Gareth Evans, star Iko Uwais and the rest of the team regrouped for The Raid 2. Hailed as the new hopes for action in cinema, the pressure was on to deliver bigger and better set-pieces.
And so they did.
The last few survivors emerge from a bungled raid, led from the carnage by resourceful rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais). They are met by a small taskforce of cops fronted by Bunawar (Cok Simbara), who tells them their team is an anti-corruption squad, charged with getting evidence on the rot within the police force that is stopping any progress being made against organised crime in the city.
They hatch a plan to insert Rama in a local prison to ingratiate himself with Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of local kingpin Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). Once in Bangun’s inner circle, Rama will be able to gather the evidence they need.
But things do not go as planned and Rama finds himself trapped in the middle of an escalating gang war between Bangun, Japanese gangster Goto (Takashi Miike favourite Kenichi Endo) and upstart instigator Bejo (Alex Abbad). He must somehow resolve it all while keeping his identity secret and also not getting killed in the crossfire.
The larger plot scope lets director Evans and his team really cut loose. No longer constrained by the four walls of a building, Evans takes action to bars, muddy prisons, alleyways, toilets, kitchens, streets and more. If you can think of an urban object, the odds are that someone in The Raid 2 gets their face smashed into it.
This is a violent film. Bones are broken, throats are slashed and people are hit with cars. Repeatedly. The superhuman actions of the fighters keep it on the cartoonish side, but there is still a gleeful streak to proceedings (even from the hero) that may throw a murky morality over things. The film holds off a bit before its first real fight scene but from then on, things escalate quickly.
If The Raid was the high-water mark in action films, the sequel raises the bar even further. Uwais is a phenomenon and the sequences just keep getting crazier, including a wild car chase through the streets of Jakarta involving a fight inside a car and numerous gun battles between vehicles.
The camerawork is almost as phenomenal as the fighting itself, swirling around the action without ever sacrificing spatial awareness for freneticism. The result is adrenaline-pumping throughout.
As brilliant as the action is, there is the occasional err in overplaying the hand a touch. There is nothing quite as over-the-top as the endless climactic fight in The Raid, but there is again a duel here that runs for minutes longer than it should. Perhaps few fans will complain, but there are points where it just becomes two guys wailing on each other with no sense of advancement.
The biggest problem is the script. It is as hoary an old gangster tale as you can get and there isn’t a moment or motivation you haven’t seen in a dozen other movies. Indeed, if the action were merely serviceable, The Raid 2 would be a very poor movie. Cardboard characters, stilted acting and bland dialogue abound.
Fortunately, the visceral rush of the visuals is more than enough to carry the day. Breathtaking in the extreme, this is the gold standard of action filmmaking today. The Raid 2 is every bit a worthy successor.
The first main extra on board is a quickie ‘behind the scenes’, which is worth a look for a couple of key sequences. One where a bouncing SUV very nearly takes out a camera crew (missing by maybe a metre) and another an ingenious sequence to film a car chase. It involves the camera car driving alongside one car, then slowing down to drop back to the next, at which point the camera is handed in through the window to a camera operator who is actually disguised as a car seat! He then moves across the second video and hangs out the far window while a third operator, lying on his back on a trolley outside the car, supports him.
It’s a terrific example of the cleverness and commitment to extraordinary shots that elevates the movie.
The other main extra is an extended Q&A session with Evans, Uwais and composer Joe Trapanese at a festival screening. Evans does the majority of the talking and he is a hugely likeable presence, both humble and clearly enjoying his work. The stories are interesting, from the adaptation of the script (which was actually an old gangster script Evans had) to the fact that Uwais psychs himself up for fights by listening to Toni Braxton. The pair are also clearly good friends and chat keenly about plans for The Raid 3.