Virginie Sélavy and Sean Hogan share their views on the eagerly awaited sequel to The Raid – the 2012 Indonesian action stunner, written and directed by Welsh-born Gareth Evans.
The Raid took everybody by surprise in 2012: a lean and mean, hyper-kinetic, brutal Indonesian martial arts film shot by a Welshman, this unlikely proposition giddily renewed the genre and showed tired Asia and stale Hollywood how it was done. The Raid 2 ups the ante still, not just in relation to the first film, but to action film generally. A prodigious amount of energy has gone into devising super-dynamic, brilliantly inventive fight scenes, choreographed to exhilarating perfection and expertly filmed, with Gareth Evans able to handle elegant wide angles and tightly confined spaces with the same dexterity. The film is one seriously jaw-dropping, breath-taking, gasp-inducing set-piece after another: the toilet cubicle melee, the mud brawl, the car chase to top all car chases, the savage kitchen fight where anything goes, with side distractions courtesy of hired assassins Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (the latter recalling the enigmatic assailant in Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent). The violence is not only superbly imaginative but full of humorous touches too: Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man in particular have assassination scenes that are as funny as they are vicious, involving claw hammers and a baseball as weapons respectively.
This second helping of 100% freshly squeezed action is, however, slightly adulterated by its narrative ambitions. Where the plot of The Raid was threadbare and fiercely functional, its follow-up attempts to develop a grand crime saga with colourful rival gangs fighting over control of the city, a deadly father-son conflict, and a taciturn hero caught in a hopeless situation (Iko Uwais reprising his role and taking up where the first film left off). Melancholy assassin Prakoso adds to the misguided and tepid efforts at tugging at the audience’s heartstrings, his fate underlined by a particularly distracting use of Handel’s ‘Saraband’. (He is played by Yayan Ruhian, who was terrific as Mad Dog in the previous film, but whose talents are sadly not best used here.)
These, however, are minor gripes, simply because the action is what truly matters here – and what action! Admittedly the radical economy of The Raid had a ruthless perfection that is missing here, but this is not a film that you choose to watch for its story. Despite its flaws, it is impossible not to enjoy this new furious assault on the senses. The whole 150 minutes are a full-on riot of orgiastic violence and preposterous fun: you will be grinning all the way home. Virginie Sélavy
Proof that you can have entirely too much of a good thing, Gareth Evans’s The Raid 2 stands as a curious artefact of what happens when indie filmmaking meets the modern franchise mentality. For whilst feted by grassroots genre audiences as a gritty, no-holds-barred alternative to Hollywood CGI action pablum, The Raid 2 actually bears all the hallmarks of any committee-made studio sequel you’d care to mention: the wearying insistence that bigger equals better; a paper-thin how-can-the-same-shit-happen-to-the-same-guy-twice narrative (along with the obligatory insistence that this is now going to be a trilogy and was always intended as one, honest); and a general unwillingness to realise when one has outstayed one’s welcome.
Opening a short time after the climax of The Raid, the sequel picks up hero cop Rama (Iko Uwais) as he agrees to go undercover in a bid to bring down the criminal power structure of the city. The plan requires him to be declared dead, just another faceless victim of the events of the previous film. So leaving his pregnant wife, off Rama goes to prison for two years in a bid to bolster the underworld cred of his new identity, before coming out and immediately infiltrating his way to the heart of the criminal organisation.
What hurts The Raid 2 is not so much this sort of by-the-numbers plotting – The Raid was similarly slight on story – but its pretensions towards being some sort of The Godfather-with-roundhouse-kicks crime epic. Whereas The Raid understood that its slender narrative was merely the means by which it got from Kickass Setpiece A to Kickass Setpiece B, and thus wasted as little time on it as necessary, the sequel deludes itself into thinking that audiences are keen to learn more about its sprawling cast of cut-out characters, rather than simply wanting to watch them kick seven shades of shit out of each other at the earliest given opportunity.
Thus we have such digressions as the return of Yayan Ruhian (antagonist Mad Dog in the first Raid), this time around playing a contract assassin who unwittingly gets caught up in the creaking gears of the plot. We first witness him taking out a gang of hoods who have absolutely nothing to do with the story, then are forced to sit through an interminable dinner scene with him and his ex-wife (the curse of backstory strikes again), before the film finally remembers what it’s good at and throws him into an epic nightclub brawl. But as the fight nears its tragic climax (complete with Handel on the soundtrack for added pathos), you’re forced to consider that all of this has been in the service of a character who’s nothing more than a plot device, and that no amount of hamfisted scripting can make him anything more than that. It’s at times like these that The Raid 2 resembles a rambling old codger reminiscing in the pub, forever talking in circles and never getting to the payoff.
Nevertheless, whilst the film’s timing of punchlines may be slipshod, it is of course the punches that people have really paid to see. And in this regard The Raid 2 definitely justifies the hype, more than surpassing the action beats of the original. Several moments – a combination car chase/fight, a climactic faceoff in a restaurant kitchen – drew admiring applause from the audience, Evans’s grasp of his craft truly demonstrating just how turgid and lazy most modern action movies are. The choreography and stunt work are stunning, often jaw-dropping (one suspects the reason Hollywood doesn’t make films like this is partly because modern health and safety standards preclude it), and these set pieces are certainly enough to recommend The Raid 2 in and of themselves.
It’s just a shame that the film surrounding them is so flabby and shapeless, really only kicking fully into life in the second half. Gareth Evans may very well be the Second Coming of action films, but even Jesus needed a hand occasionally. And The Raid 2 would certainly have benefited from the input of another writer and editor. If (as seems likely) Evans parlays the success of these films into a US directing career, the fervent wish of his hardcore support seems to be that he might bring some much-needed balls to the complacency of modern corporate Hollywood. Fair enough. But what the Hollywood studio system always stood for was discipline and the art of delegation, and The Raid 2 serves as notice of the fact that there are lessons to be learned there for indie filmmakers too. Sean Hogan
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