Review: The Raid 2 (Sundance 2014)
PLOT:Rama (Iko Uwais) is sent undercover by a task force looking to root out police corruption, and ends up infiltrating the most feared crime syndicate in the city.
REVIEW:For anyone fearing THE RAID 2 would be a simple retread of the original, your fears are unfounded. Using the original film as a mere jumping off point for its own self-contained crime saga, the whispers (or rather screams) from the Park City crowd present at the world premiere suggests that THE RAID 2 might be one of the best action sequels since TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY.
A far more ambitious film than the original, director Gareth Evans revealed in the Q&A that the script for this film actually existed before the original. The only reason it wasn't made was that Evans didn't have the funds to do this sprawling crime saga justice, and after the first film did so well, the main character was rewritten to be Iko Uwais Rama from the original. As such, THE RAID 2 hardly feels like a sequel at all.
People who though THE RAID was a fun, but ultimately simple film will be impressed by the scope of Evans' sequel. If you've seen his acclaimed segment from V/H/S 2- SAFE HEAVEN- the evolution of his craft will be immediately apparent. THE RAID 2 has production values that rival any $200 million plus American actioner, but the script is also surprisingly sophisticated, featuring a whole slew of characters that are more three-dimensional than you'd typically find in the genre.
This time out, Iko Uwais' Rama is much-less of an idealistic hero. Having been left to rot by his police handlers and forcibly separated from his family, Rama's much moodier, and Uwais' performance is bad-ass. More than ever, he feels like the heir apparent to icons like Jet Li & Jackie Chan. He was great physically in the first film, but here he gives a tough, gritty performance, even when he's not kicking the crap out of an opponent (or twenty).
On that score, rest assured that THE RAID 2 delivers. You'd think the 150 minute running time would mean that it would be stretched out by exposition, but that's not really true. While yes, the film is certainly more plot heavy than the original (which barely had one) there's literally dozens of action scenes, with the ones being featured in the trailer, such as the prison mud-brawl, all happening within the first act as only about thirty minutes of the film takes place in a prison setting. This will no doubt be a relief to those who feared this would simply be “THE RAID in prison”. Evans, who also cut and choreographed the film, has an astonishing eye for carnage. One of the problems with modern action movies is that there's no sense of geography. Here, Evans uses the surroundings brilliantly, with an early example being when Rama faces a dozen opponents, and uses a bathroom to isolate opponents two at a time, pulling them each into his little room of pain.
While the fights are easily on-par with the first film- especially the final mano-a-mano which apparently took ten days to film- there's more to the action than just martial arts. There's also dozens of high-voltage gunfights, strikingly different from what you'd see in a Western action film, and an absolutely jaw-dropping car chase that's among one of the finest action scenes ever shot. That may sound like a fanboy knee-jerk reaction, but once the film comes out and people see it, it will be hard to argue that this sequence is not a mini-masterpiece of pure carnage. Add to that the incredible sound design and pulsating score by Joseph Trapanese, and Indonesian composers Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal (with two Nine Inch Nails instrumental tracks prominently featured) THE RAID 2 just may be the fastest two and a half hour movie you've even seen.
The one element of THE RAID 2 that might divide audiences is that this just may be one of the most violent action movies ever made. The sheer amount of bloodletting makes Paul Verhoven's early actioners look tame by comparison. The violence is just non-stop, and ramped up to horror movie levels with machine gun blasts at close range to the face, and terrible things done with hammers. This is the most violent mainstream film since THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and it seems a stretch to think the MPAA will let this slide-by with an R-rating, meaning the theatrical version will likely be cut down to avoid an NC-17.
While the violence may repel some, Evans just has such a great sense of style that it remains acceptable although some will disagree. It's meant to be over the top and operatic, with the film playing like a SCARFACE crossed with the Japanese Yakuza epics of a director like Kinji Fukasaku. With a 120 day shooting schedule, THE RAID 2 clearly was a labor of love for Evans and far from the cash-in sequel some may have anticipated. In its own way, THE RAID 2 is a masterpiece of its genre and -as impossible as it may seem- far superior to the original.