Around twenty years ago (has it really been that long?), I attended a screening at the legendary Valhalla Cinema (R.I.P) in Melbourne, where I was witness to the greatest double feature of action filmmaking I had ever seen. The two films were John Woo’s “Hardboiled” and Jackie Chan’s “Drunken Master II” and both represented the action peak of their respective genres. In all that time since, no other film has come close to replicating the awe and excitement I got that night while watching those classic Hong Kong films……until today. Gareth Evan’s sequel to his blockbuster hit “The Raid” may be the best action film I have seen on the big screen since that memorable night over two decades ago.
The story picks up immediately after the finale of the original film, with Rama meeting up with a contemporary he trusts, who convinces the rookie to go undercover in a Jakarta jail in an attempt to infiltrate one of the two big gangs that run the city, and then weed out all of the corrupt cops that are on their payroll. Rama’s goal is to befriend Ucok, who is the son of gang boss Bangun, and then be invited to join the gang once released from prison, which he is successful at doing. However, Rama’s new “friend” is an impatient one, and in an attempt to move up the food chain quicker, Ucok starts a gang war between his father’s gang (without Bangun’s approval) and their Japanese rivals with the plan that he and his partner on the side, Bejo, can then secure whatever territory is available after the war. Suffice to say, poor old Rama gets caught in the middle of the gang war with the added pressure of trying to keep his true identity a mystery from everyone.
It has now become very clear that Gareth Evans is the new master of action films. In fact he is the only director going around these days that seems to have a clear understanding on how to shoot action that is both believably fierce and easy to follow for the audience. Not only that, but he also has a keen eye on how to edit these scenes too. While he showed promise with his 2009 film “Merantau”, he expanded his ability ten-fold when it came to his follow up, “The Raid”. The original film absolutely blew my mind with its ingenious and brutal fight scenes, and amazingly Evans has been able to top his phenomenal work with “The Raid 2”. Although the two films are completely different in style, Evans has been able to keep the intensity from the original film and implant it into the sequel. As everyone knows by now, “The Raid” was set entirely in an apartment building which gave the film a claustrophobic feeling and an energy that was combined with a breakneck pace. With “The Raid 2” Evans has opened up his world considerably exposing a universe that was only hinted at in the original film. We are introduced to a large number of characters and at times it can get confusing just who everyone is and where their loyalties lie. In fact, my one negative of the film is that it is overly complex for a plot that doesn’t demand it. I suppose it is true to state that while Evans is an expert at creating and filming action, his handle of plot and narrative is not yet at the same level.
One thing that Evans does have a handle of is creating style, which is something “The Raid 2”has a plethora of. Just his choice of framing, when to move the camera, how he moves the camera and things like when to use slow motion, is so impressive. Even though the films they make are not similar in the slightest, I was constantly reminded of golden age Dario Argento films whilst watching “The Raid 2”. Truthfully, I am not sure why that was but I am assuming that it had to do with Evan’s attention to detail with certain objects and the film’s operatic visual style. As I alluded to above, Evans does a sublime job with the editing of the film too. It is all so seemless, particularly with the action, that every punch, kick, elbow and slash is felt to its maximum effect. What I love about the action in these two films is that they are always of a high intensity due to the fact that the characters are in a kill or be killed scenario, and because of this the action is also extremely brutal and bloody. The use of a knife in “The Raid” films is always deadly, but that is true of all weapons here. Speaking of weapons, Evans has created two memorable characters in the film that go by the monikers of “Baseball Bat Guy” and “Hammer Girl”, and no points for guessing what their weapons of choice are. They are a brother/sister team of assassins, who although have limited screen time, their presence when on screen is amazing and you cannot wait until Rama is finally forced to face them both.
Let’s talk about the action scenes in a little more depth, shall we? Thanks to the two and a half hour running time of “The Raid 2” it gives plenty of time to fill the film with a large number of amazing action scenes without making it feel too much and making it too repetitive. While I am not sure how many action scenes there are in total, the number is at least in double digits, with the best one being the amazing duel at the finale set in a kitchen. As great as the Rama versus Mad Dog fight was in the original film, Evans has bettered it with the final fight here. It is such an intense and bloody duel that has to be seen to be believed. Speaking of Mad Dog, YayanRhuhian (who was the actor who played him) shows up again in the sequel, this time playing a hitman named Prakoso. Again with limited screentime, Evans and his actor are able to create a truly memorable character and it is a moment with this hitman that turns out to be the film’s most heartfelt. It is a brilliant and surprising scene, as we are compelled to feel so much for this doomed man. However before this, Rhuhian is able to show off his amazing skills in a number of fight scenes. Another favourite action scene of mine was the thrilling and complex car chase towards the end of the film that sees Rama fighting within a car that is weaving in and out of traffic. The sheer volume of action in this film is unheard of and it is all spectacularly choreographed by our lead, IkoUwais and the aforementioned YayanRhuhian. The duo performed the same duties on the original, but their work here is more complex if that is possible. One scene that did disappoint me a little was the much lauded prison brawl. Because everyone ends up covered in mud, it becomes difficult to work out who is who, and as such the scene fell a little flat for me.
Overall, “The Raid 2” is an amazing piece of action cinema and is a film I do not want to say too much about in the fear of ruining it. Suffice to say that it has been expertly put together and directed by Gareth Evans who continues improving with each film he makes. One thing I failed to mention above is his use of sound that is so intuitively brilliant in that he just knows when to remove the sound or add it at precisely the right moment to much a scene that much better. The film is style personified and as much as I love the film, I may even love its style more; it is that impressive. For a two and a half hour film, “The Raid 2” just flew by, leaving me wanting more and to see it again as soon as possible.