Release Date: 11th April 2014
Running time: 150 minutes
Director: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Arafin Putra, Tia Pakusodewo, Yayan Ruhian
An Indonesian film, written and directed by a Welshman featuring a cast unknown to western audiences; back in 2011, The Raid proved to be the ultimate cinema underdog. With a budget under a million pounds, the film made around £10 million worldwide and was loved by the critics for it’s creative and brutal martial arts set-pieces. Three years later director Gareth Evans finds himself in a much different position this time around. The Raid 2 does not have the advantage of the element of surprise, instead it is lumbered with the burden of expectation. With every bus ad and TV trailer promising the film will set a new benchmark in the genre (one advance review confusingly described it as “The Dark Knight of action movies”), can it really live up to the hype? The answer is a resounding yes. It may not be the greatest action film ever made, but it comes pretty damn close.
Picking up the story shortly after the events of the first film, rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover in an attempt to bring down Jakarta’s crime syndicates and end corruption in the police force. He soon finds himself acting as right-hand man to Arifin Putra’s smarmy Uco, the ambitious son of kingpin Bangun. Unsurprisingly, family tensions arise. Admirably, Evans in not resting on his laurels, with the sweeping crime opus adding an extra layer to the non-stop violence that was the lynchpin of its predecessor. It is a story we have seen many times before, but plot is the only aspect of the film lacking originality.
The Raid 2 finds the perfect balance between beauty and brutality. During the quiet moments the camera lingers in the long shot, soaking in the lavish restaurants and windy countrysides where deals are dealt and bodies are disposed of. When the fighting breaks out, Evans adopts a form of parkour filmmaking in order to keep up with the bloodshed. The camera is flung through windows and dragged through the mud at a relentless, ballistic pace that matches the energy of the actors, setting the Welshman apart as the premiere purveyor of mayhem. The fight sequences are always first class, the yardstick all big-budget blockbusters should be measured against, as Uwais proves to be a phenomenon in cinematic martial arts.
Alongside the pitch perfect carnage, Rama is once again pitted against a bevy of outlandish characters. The brother and sister team of Baseball Bat Guy and Hammer Girl, along with Cecep Arif Rahman’s near mute assassin follow in the footsteps of Yayan Ruhian’s Mad Dog from the first film as scene-stealing henchmen (Ruhian does return here as a completely different character; the machete-wielding, Luca Brasi-esque, homeless hitman Prakoso). They’re the film’s trump card. Sadly, their limited screen time highlights the biggest flaw in the piece, with more time spent focused on the far less interesting boardroom back-stabbings. It is a shame they are not given more time to shine.
Despite occasionally being dragged down by the warring gang subplot, The Raid 2 is a remarkable achievement. The extra depth shows that Evans is almost as adept with plot, backstory and heart, as he is with explosive action. It is a delight for fans of breathlessly relentless, smash- mouth, tendon-shredding, bone-smashing, violent choreography that will have you chuckling with amazed delight and gasping with empathetic horror with each clubbing blow. A devilishly fun, stylish piece that carries the weight of expectation effortlessly.