The Raid 2 (2014)
Dir. Gareth Evans
Starring Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
The Raid 2 is an… interesting film.
I firmly believe The Raid is a through-and-through action masterpiece. Not only with respect to its action (which is fucking incredible) but also its approach to storytelling i.e. it doesn’t dick around for half an hour with needless backstory and pointless convolution. It knows where it’s going and what it wants to be, and wastes no time getting you there as economically and entertainingly as possible. Meanwhile, The Raid 2 seems to flirt with, if not fall prey to, every single narrative issue its predecessor so deftly avoided.
On the one hand, it’s a hard-boiled crime drama, in the vein of Donnie Brasco or Infernal Affairs, which deals with the full scope of the seedy criminal underworld with which the first film flirted. Our protagonist, Rama, survived the first Raid (everyone else wasn’t very smart when renegotiating their contracts and are killed off or made irrelevant within ten minutes) and now is asked to go undercover into a brutal and powerful gang in order to expose police corruption (I should note that this is not, as the title deceptively advertises, about an actual ‘raid’ – Evans at the very least has no interest in repeating himself). The world he is dropped into is dark and unsafe, filled with internal machinations and betrayals and the intrigue of criminal politics. These elements are interesting, but they’re carried by a story that doesn’t gel together all that well.
Rama (who goes by ‘Yuda’ while undercover… for all two of you that cared) remains the simple and undeveloped character as he was in The Raid – however, his lack of arc or character exploration worked then because the plot progressed at such a ludicrous pace that you were too busy invested in his journey through the building to care about his family (his wife what’s-her-face and his son oh-who-cares). However there’s none of that narrative economy and clarity here; there are just too many things going on and half of them don’t amount to anything. For example, there’s an entire subplot dedicated to this one random homeless guy (played by Yayan Ruhian, who portrayed Mad-Dog in the first film – which was confusing because I thought for a moment that it had turned either into a supernatural revenge flick or a zombie-martial-arts movie… hey, if Red Dead Redemption can do it, so can this) who kills people to earn money for his son whom his ex-wife won’t let him see. There’s a clear sense of motivation and conflict here, the beginning of a potentially interesting story… except he’s promptly killed off (in an admittedly rather beautiful and operatic sequence) and degraded into a plot device. It renders the entire arc meaningless in the context of the larger story. Evans seems to have completely forgotten the perfect economic storytelling which made the first work – there’s so much extra padding, and none of it has any weight. There are at least two reveals in the film which are clearly meant to be dramatic and meaningful but end up having little to no effect on the story. It’s infuriating. These problems aren’t coming from ineptitude; all of these arcs and ideas show potential if they were expanded upon. They just aren’t. It’s all clutter – filler to occupy time between all the kickass fight scenes.
On the other hand, in direct contrast to all these gritty, dour story mechanics, The Raid 2 is also completely mental in execution. It’s almost like a comic-book in its craziness. For example, there’s a villain who could have been lifted straight out of a Bond movie, complete with physical impediment, occasional deployment of long, arbitrary speeches, unclear and convoluted plan, assorted collection of gimmicky henchmen and sophisticated tastes in food and wine. He employs a duo of assassins who kill with claw hammers and a baseball bat – because sniper rifles and car bombs are so 2007. I’d say that this doesn’t make any logical sense, but more often than not the people they’re sent to kill aren’t packing either, instead choosing to wield small knives or just resort to good ol’ fashioned fisticuffs. Is it just difficult to get guns in Indonesia? It’s weird because the first film portrayed the evolution from firearm combat to hand-to-hand so naturally, whereas here they seem to just not bother. I’m bringing this up not because I think it detracts from or adds to the overall quality – nitpicking-as-criticism is literally one of the worst things ever – but because I get across a sense of what this film is like, tonally. It’s both gritty and ludicrous. It’s a movie where a man gets killed with a baseball that takes itself seriously. It’s almost two different films entirely.
But what, in the end, makes the film so interesting is that no-one gives a crap about the above factors – that’s never what people talk about. What gets brought up almost exclusively when talking about The Raid 2 is the action – and with good fucking reason. Holy shit are the set-pieces incredible. The setting has expanded from the claustrophobic hallways of The Raid and Evans has far more room to stretch; fights play out in toilet cubicles (Lord knows how he fits the camera in that tiny space – that’s some black magic shit right there), on subway trains and during high-speed car chases, and all of them – every single one – is impeccably filmed. There isn’t one lazy shot. What’s great about the action sequences is not just that they’re choreographed, shot and edited with a near-preternatural level of skill; it’s that they also work like narratives themselves. Fights evolve as they go on, always introducing some new element or changing direction so there’s never any bloat, and they always feel organic and real (take note Michael Bay). Evans has taken every good thing about the action in the first film and somehow made it even better. This is seriously next-level stuff. I want every director of every major action blockbuster from now on to treat this film like their bible.
So, in the end, yeah – I’m giving The Raid 2 a firm recommendation. It’s fun, well-shot and worth any and all problems just for its glorious fight scenes. Fun for all the family.