2012’s “The Raid: Redemption” was an exhilarating and exhausting bout of wall-to-wall, non-stop beat downs and kinetic action. A bad guy waited at the top of a giant gray apartment building, and it was up to the hero to murder everyone in his path up each floor and through each room. It was relentless, and arguably not a whole lot of fun.
“The Raid 2” is still relentless, and it’s still a grim, copiously bloody martial arts movie in which everyone will still end up murdered. But Director Gareth Evans has opened up the film’s possibilities and scope in fascinating ways. It’s an intense and no doubt excruciating movie experience, but it comes with more arresting visuals and a greater set of stakes.
This is an action movie in the open world. It doesn’t stop at bashing heads against cement walls but instead bursts through windows, careens through subway cars and night clubs and thrashes in the mud during a prison riot. Evans’s camera had no limitations the first time around, but here it’s liberated to employ aerial shots and carefully timed tracking moves to accommodate thrilling long takes in this bigger playground. One of the film’s best moments is a single long take of Rama (Iko Uwais) pummeling a wall with his machine gun arms while in his prison cell. The film’s unflinching look will be quite the boon as the intensity ramps up.
For as violent and feverish as the camera can be during the action scenes, it’s never unclear, and Evans has a remarkable sense of visual construction and shot placement in even his quieter, dialogue filled moments. Watch the execution scene inside the evil kingpin’s deep red and far stretching hotel ballroom, and see the debt Evans owes to Nicolas Winding Refn and to David Lynch. This “Raid” bursts with color, and it’s that much darker for it.
The writing and acting this time around have improved tenfold, but the emotional stakes are held in the endless web of corruption and death Rama’s caught in. The question remains in action movies how even after a hero dismantles every bad guy in sight, there’s somehow always an additional shadow organization that exerts even more control over the world behind the scenes and awaiting a sequel. “The Raid 2” plays on that idea, investing Rama in an endless undercover operation in which the cops employing him have no invested interest in him getting out.
Rama’s job is to investigate corruption between a cop named Reza and the mafia leader Bangun. He gets close to Bangun’s son Uco while in prison and soon follows it down a rabbit hole of mob families and jobs, all while getting no closer to anything his higher ups actually want. Better this story be familiar than the forgettable one in the first “Raid,” but the fact that our hero is caught in a web of murder because murder is all he knows makes this sequel all the more poignant.
“The Raid 2” really is a film that ups the stakes on an original that was already stacked. The first film made all the buzz as the game changer, but this second “Raid” film is the action movie the world has been waiting for.
3 ½ stars