Review: The Raid 2
PLOT: Following the events of the first film, unstoppable cop Rama now must go undercover and get close to the arrogant son of a gangster while a war between criminal syndicates dangerously looms.
REVIEW: THE RAID 2 is just about what you want from a sequel to THE RAID, at least on the bone-crunching front. Its fights are more convoluted and thrilling, its body count is higher, its weapons more innovative. If you felt walloped by the first film's many insanely elaborate beatdowns and stand-offs, you'll find your ass handed to you approximately a dozen times during this one. Director Gareth Evans is perhaps the most accomplished action choreographer on the planet right now; he has no equal that I can think of in terms of staging a fight sequence.
The film also attempts to be bigger and better in the story department too; unlike the first film, THE RAID 2 opens up its world to tell an undercover cop/feuding mob story with nods to THE DEPARTED and THE GODFATHER. It's an ambitious move by Evans, and certainly one that allows us to see him work a different skill set; clearly he wants to prove he's more than just a guy who's good at depicting artful fatalities. Indeed, any real connection to the first film is severed very early on, with Evans embarking on a path with deeper narrative themes of betrayal and honor.
The results are mixed on this front. The film's first act, which is mostly set-up and exposition, is a bit of a mess, with too many scenes chopped up and mixed up unnecessarily in order to tell a fairly straight-forward story. We learn that Rama (Iko Uwais), the hero cop from the first film, has now been recruited to go undercover in prison in order to get close to Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of one of the city's biggest crime bosses. Once this is accomplished, Ucok will take Rama under his wing and get him a menial job working within the crime syndicate, where the cop will proceed to shatter it from within.
Of course, Rama's new "family" is engaged in a war, one with a sinister sort nabbed Bejo (Alex Abbad), who himself is secretly attempting to get Ucok to come play for his team. Ucok is one of those insecure mob sons who just can't seem to gain his father's respect, you see, and the enticement of making his own way and sticking it to dad is perhaps too good to give up. Poor Rama is caught in the middle of the double-dealing, left to beat down anyone who tries to kill either him or Ucok, and there are many such people.
Evans mostly over plots his tale, drawing out many of the confrontation sequences while also adding so many secondary characters that you'll be forgiven if by the halfway point you're not even quite sure who is working with whom and what's being discussed. There are whole subplots that could be deleted and the film wouldn't miss a beat. While the first film ripped and roared, never seeming to stop for a second, the sequel ultimately begins to feel chatty and plodding, and at 2 1/2 hours in length, one begins to wonder if it might be a case of too much of a good thing. I hate to be one of those people, the "just get to the action already" guy, but I can't deny that I was that guy at several points during THE RAID 2.
But that's not just a criticism of the meandering story; it's also a testament to just how good the action is. When Evans unloads, he does it for keeps. THE RAID 2 features several absolutely stunning battle sequences, none of which words can accurately describe. A melee in a muddy prison yard involving at least 50 men is the first full-on action scene in the film, and it's simultaneously unnerving and enthralling. An extended car chase involving multiple cars, machine guns and motorcycles proves Evans' action acumen isn't restricted to fistfights; it's the most flat-out entertaining car chase in recent memory. And the absolutely brutal mano-a-mano toward the finale with Rama and a knife-wielding henchman thoroughly amazes, and even puts the bravura three-man fight sequence that ended the first RAID to shame. This scene literally feels like it's never going to end - and you actually don't want it to.
It can't be denied that THE RAID 2 is often a thing of blood-soaked beauty, and fans of the first picture - and action movies in general - will find so much to get excited about here. Hell, even non-action fans will find it difficult to not appreciate the crazed brilliance Evans is capable of in his best moments. For the next round, and there certainly will be another, I'd like him to streamline his focus and cut out the fat, for I believe THE RAID 2's problems mostly stem from not wanting to let anything go. I imagine there's a perfectly thrilling cut of THE RAID 2 that's under two hours which keeps every fight sequence intact and just enough of the crime saga business to add dramatic intrigue. As it stands now, the film is often enjoyable as hell, and sometimes - surprisingly - a bit of a drag.