Audacity is a great trait for filmmakers to possess. Bold disregard for convention while skating on the razor’s edge of failure imbues a film with a propulsive element that leaps from the screen and infects the audience. A single misfire and suddenly the film becomes a wretched piece of camp, mocked forever for ambition far exceeding its ability. But if a filmmaker does get it right, the audience feels that real sense of danger — what they are seeing is new and different, few filmic experiences that can rival it. Building on his innovative (if a bit simple) film, The Raid: Redemption, writer/director Gareth Evans’s follow-up is a daring bit of filmmaking that will leave audiences stunned and their pulses racing as they take in a violent phantasmagoria that defies other action movies to match its brutality.
The Raid 2 starts right where the previous film left off, with earnest cop Rama (Iko Uwais) debriefing about his ordeal. He is then tasked with a new, seemingly impossible assignment: abandon his family and his life, get sent into prison deep cover, and befriend Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of the local crimelord (Tio Pakusodewo) in order to take down the gangs and expose systemic corruption. Upon release, Rama works with malcontented Ucok as rival gangs strive not just for gains in local territory, but also the loyalties of the various gang members.
Moving on from his Rio Bravo/Assault on Precinct 13 -influenced original, Evans reveals a much wider scope here in influences, story, set pieces, and cinematography. Drawing from films as disparate as The Godfather, Oldboy, Paranoia Agent, and even Hal Needham’s work, Evans is able to craft something familiar yet utterly new. The fights remain the brutal quick-paced, intimate affairs achieved by a stellar stunt team, but they aren’t shot at such close range this time, and even allow a farther depth of field to reveal the complexity Evans is capable of. Taking in a melee at a muddy prison yard, a garish nightclub, or cross-cutting between vicious acts of vengeance in multiple locations, viewers witness a whole new world of meticulously choreographed brutality. Overhead shots often reveal the chaos of this swarm of violence with just as much impact as the close shots between two grappling combatants. Of particular note is a car chase sequence that is easily one of the best in decades, and will certainly influence filmmakers for years to come.
It is not a perfect movie: the opening takes a while to move all of the pieces into place, so while there are heinous actions taken, the intense fighting fans expect to see is delayed for 20 minutes. While there are, predictably, an overall lack of female roles — with the few performances relegated to a handful of scenes — I think one character, Hammer Girl, will end up being incredibly iconic and appear on cosplay websites and Halloween parties across the world. But the rest of the characters aren’t that deep, and the plot is rife with well-worn gangster movie tropes. However, all these elements work because they exist less as clichés and more as an archetypal canvas that Evans uses to paint his hyperviolent masterpiece. Sure, we all know that the hothead son will cause problems, but the shockingly innovative and violent way those problems manifest is a unique spectacle to behold. And while the films broad characters are more comic book-like than relatable people, they are meant to be larger-than-life characters in order to add to the shocking escalation and operatic use of violence.
The Raid 2 is an audacious film that one needs to experience, preferably in a large theater, surrounded by hundreds of people all screaming “Oh!” at the latest bone breaking or “What!?!?” after a stunt is performed that no one has seen before or even thought possible. By moving out of the confines of the single set, Evans hasn’t lost any of the intensity of his close fighting original. Instead, he has opened up a whole new world of dangerous possibilities and crafted what is easily in the same leagues as the best action films.