Action films have been the biggest casualty of the big-budget blockbuster era of cinema currently taking hold of megaplexes. Hollywood no longer generates the same kind of carnage-filled beat-‘em-ups that were a cinematic staple for so many years. Studios would rather invest heavily in more special-effects laden spectacles and comic-book adaptations, wherein most of the action is undertaken virtually. Like horror films, sneakers and dim sum, the best products come out of Asia.
The original “The Raid” was a reminder of how awesome traditional brick-and-mortar martial arts films can be. Compact and claustrophobic, energy and passion emanates from every well-choreographed fight sequence. Sequels to these kind of movies are quite common, but one had to wonder if director Gareth Evans could capture the same finesse in the follow-up. While “The Raid 2” might not be the game-changer the original was, it’s an excellent action film that successfully carves out its own identity.
The original “The Raid” featured agent Rama (Iko Uwais) taking on a building full of gangsters and killers. After reducing them to a pile of bodies, he found himself a marked man. His family is under threat of reprisal, and the only way to ensure their safety is to go undercover and find those pulling the strings.
The sequel takes Rama into the belly of the beast where he literally has to fight his way through the ranks of the criminal underworld. He must take down every level of the organization looking for retribution.
The story is the kind of gritty, down-and-dirty framework designed to put Rama in the most ludicrous of scenarios. The story feels familiar—a little like the setup for “The Departed,” which is actually a remake of a Chinese film series “Infernal Affairs.”
Despite its duplicative properties, the story still matters. In “The Raid 2” there’s enough here to propel the film from action sequence to action sequence. However, the same labor-intensive forces used to create the fight sequences could have been afforded to the actual plot of the film.
Like all martial arts films, there’s a required suspension of disbelief as they often depict single-file lines waiting to get their hands on the film’s hero. “The Raid” films follow a similar pattern of villain disbursement; however, Evans’ visual style and kinetic flair more than make up for the ridiculousness of it all. The fight scenes are so perfectly choreographed it feels like a world-class ballet; except, instead of pliés, the dancers are beating the high holy hell out of each other.
In a stale genre that rarely produces anything new, Evans really does make the whole action spectacle seem unique and innovative. His skills are currently unmatched in the movie industry. There’s probably a mile-long line of Hollywood studios waiting to make him an offer, but he’s one of those filmmakers that should remain chaste and untouched by the creativity-euthanizing studio system. The Hollywood scene notoriously absorbs fringe talents and marginalizes their output. It may be selfish, but films like “The Raid 2” are so rare—like precious little blood-covered diamonds one discovers after sifting through a mile of watery silt—that it would be a shame to compromise such a director.
“The Raid 2” is certainly worth a look for any fan of martial-arts films or classic-action films. In a day and age where audiences are lucky to see one kick-ass action movie a year, this film will resound with people looking to get their 2014 fix. It stands as one lone tribute to an era of film that feels increasingly irrelevant amidst the 200-million-dollar orgies of computer generated excess. “The Raid 2” is a first-rate action film that deserves to be seen.
The Raid 2
Starring Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
Directed by Gareth Evans