Editor’s note: Our review of The Raid 2 originally ran during this year’s Sundance film festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release.
Let’s just dispense with the hyperbole right now. Yes, The Raid 2 will, in fact, cure any and all ailments, make you irresistible to the opposite sex, give you the winning lottery numbers, do your math homework for you, wash the dishes, and happily go down on you without expecting the same in return.
Or not. But even without all of that it should be more than enough that Gareth Evans’ follow up to his 2011 action hit is without a doubt one of the most brilliantly executed, excitingly choreographed, bone-crunchingly fantastic action films your eyes have ever had the distinct pleasure of seeing and hearing.
The action picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of part one as Rama (Iko Uwais) brings the dirty cop Wahyu into custody only to see him capped by the head of a new police unit whose focus is ending police corruption. He convinces Rama to go undercover in prison in order to get close to a local crime lord, Uco (Arifin Putra), whose father, Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), is a big crime boss on the outside. Also in the mix is a competing gangster named Bejo (Alex Abbad) who kills someone very close to Rama unaware how misguided of a decision that was.
Rama’s exit from prison sees his entry into Bangun’s organization, but as he works to gather evidence against them the various players head towards a bloody confrontation. Uco’s ambition exceeds his grasp, and he sets in motion a chain of events that not only destroys delicate peace treaties between gangs but also threatens to leave absolutely no one standing.
Any praise for The Raid 2, all of which it deserves, comes with the often unspoken reality that for all of its many strengths the film is far from perfect. Action films with mediocre scripts are par for the course, and the rare instances where one kicks ass in action and writing are the exceptions to the rule. So it goes here as the script suffers from a lack of focus, a dramatic goal that exceeds its reach, and an unnecessarily jumbled first act.
But enough about that because sweet Jesus this is currently the reigning king of action films, and there’s not a single other movie or director that can touch it. It will leave your body battered and bruised and feeling all kinds of tingly. You will hate your eyelids because blinking will cause you to miss beautifully crafted frames of mayhem and carnage.
There are roughly 12–13 action sequences here, and they are all pockets of choreographed brilliance utilizing a variety of fighting styles and implements of death. Like a deadly serious Jackie Chan film, furniture and other handy objects are used here to crush, impale, and destroy opponents. Each fight scene differs and stands apart as its own mini-masterpiece. The cell highlights a cramped environment, the subway shows off the gorgeous Hammer Girl’s (Julie Estelle) dual-wielding death blossom, the car chase is a whirlwind of vehicular action and brutal close-quarters fighting in a moving car and the kitchen… good god the kitchen.
Adding to visceral feel of it all is a sound design that features both a score (by Aria Prayogi, Joseph Trapanese, and Fajar Yuskemal) that sets mood and tone while driving the momentum forward, and an attention to detail and effect that has the aural impact of every punch, kick, slice, and bone crunch echoing through your skull.
Evans earns his acclaim as perhaps the finest action-director working today. Like Isaac Florentine and, well pretty much nobody else, Evans knows the stars of a fight scene are the actual fighters and not flashy, ultimately destructive editing. Fights are made up of long takes showing the flow of motion, the impact of the hits, and the kinetic result of bodies knocked into walls, floors, tables, pavement, car doors at 50 miles per hour, and every other conceivable surface.
Where Evans doesn’t earn enough compliment though is in his visual sense beyond the action. He, along with cinematographer Matt Flannery, have also made a picture that exudes beauty and purpose even when fists aren’t flying. From the opening shot of a large field to the various bold color schemes used in the design of the clubs, karaoke rooms, offices, and porn warehouses, the movie is a visual delight constantly giving you imagery to take in and savor.
The Raid 2 will satisfy every action fan’s thirst for fight scenes choreographed, executed, shot, and edited by people who know what the hell they’re doing. Can you pick at its other faults? Of course. But when the overall experience is this goddamn fantastic why would you even bother?
The Upside: Action-wise, this is as good as it gets; cinematography continually eye-catching; entrancing score; never feels its length (148 minutes); Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man deserve a spin-off
The Downside: Script could use some more work; a multitude of characters/motivations can be confusing thanks to early editing.
On the Side: An audience member had a seizure during the screening resulting in brief, controlled chaos and stopping of the film. It resumed, and when the talent took the stage for a Q&A afterward their first concern was to confirm that the guy was okay. He was.