The Raid 2 (2014)
It is very difficult to write about The Raid 2 without descending into hyperbole or gushing like a fanboy. As the movie poster shows, the popular press used pretty much every cliché available on the film’s release in 2014. If I remember, they did this previously with the original movie, The Raid in 2011. I may have leaned towards such enthusiasm myself when reviewing the previous movie. One thing that can be said about The Raid 2 is that it's a game changer and a genre milestone. It is more than just an action movie, in the same way that Enter the Dragon is more than just a martial arts movie and Singin' in the Rain is more than just a musical. Director Gareth Evans has stepped beyond the traditionally narrow scope of the genre to produce something far more ambitious.
The Raid 2 exceeds the claustrophobic confines of its predecessor and offers a far more ambitious plot. Following two hours after the siege on Boss Tama’s tower block complex (as seen in the first film), cop Rama (Iko Uwais) is asked to go undercover in a maximum-security prison so he can infiltrate a Jakarta crime syndicate. Rama manages to penetrate the inner circle of Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). When rival gang leader Bejo (Alex Abbad) instigates a turf war for the streets of Jakarta, Rama quickly finds that all may not be as it seems, both in prison and within the ranks of his own police department.
The Raid 2 has a running time of two and a half hours, but it does not out stay its welcome despite its length. It manages to keep the narrative moving forward and switches seamlessly from action scene to occasional exposition. It is clear that director Evans has been influenced by the works of Akira Kurosawa, Park Chan-wook, Takeshi Kitano and Alan Mak, both visually and thematically. There are clear homages to several genre classics; a mass fight in a prison yard that has turned to mud, the use as claw hammers as a weapon and the complex inner politics of the crime syndicate. The movie also excels with its cinematography, editing and choreography. The action is superbly framed and presented in such a way that allows the audience to enjoy the frenetic pace but still see exactly what is happening on screen.
The Raid 2 is not for the squeamish. It is a brutal and unflinching in its depiction of violence. Yet there is a poetical quality to the never-ending litany of broken limbs, stabbings and sundry mayhem. Edwards manages to succeed in making the violence both titillating and disturbing at once. The audience is never quite sure what is going to happen next. It is this element of unpredictability that works so well in the film favour. It’s a radical change in approach to the distinctly passive experience that contemporary mainstream action movies have become in the west. Four years on we have yet to see a third instalment of this franchise, which is a shame. There is still talk of a US remake of the original film, for those viewers that cannot cope with subtitles or a non-American cast. For viewers with broader cinematic taste, The Raid 2 is well worth seeking out and seeing in its original language, because it is a superior, stylish and honest product.