Redemption was without a doubt the most spectacular action film of the past 10-15 years when it was released 2 years ago. It set a new level for action set pieces and installed something that has hardly ever been seen or will ever be topped. So when a sequel was announced many thought me included how can you outdo something that was already brilliant when so many sequels struggle to say anything new? For all the naysayers, they were given a roundhouse in the face for even questioning that it could not be done. The Raid 2 is not only better overall but offers greater action and a more human story. The end result is a grandiose crime action martial arts epic that is already an instant classic. With so few original fighting movies out right now and even more so originating from Asia, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a movie throw everything including the kitchen sink at your face.
I don’t want to give the feeling that I’m sprouting hyperbole at The Raid 2 but this really is the most spectacular action film I have ever seen. It can be a little pointless to even say why it’s so great since it will do no justice to actually seeing it. That’s how awesome it is, that words can’t even describe but I am going to anyway. It doesn’t take long before we get into the first bit of action but it slowly builds the tension before it blows like a powder keg. Then you just allow yourself to be strapped in. It starts off in a bathroom stall then goes to a litany of various places, settings and locales. It’s hard to say where it will exactly go next but that’s what makes it so fun. The creativity used in fighting in specific locations was used brilliantly, using every bit of space available to make the best possible fight sequence. What I really loved was the calm moments before the storm. The music builds up with anticipation, everything is in slow motion, the characters have stern looks on their faces and you know shit is about to go down. Like a starting pistol to a race, the action is off to the races. It’s frantic and pulse pounding, while leaving your mouth agape at what you have just seen. I have had my mouth open for long periods of time while watching it with the occasional holy shit peppered throughout. I’ve never seen fighting scenes so creative and feel like a heavy weight fight.
It’s hard to find fault in the action but some may say that it can go a little long but this is the type of movie that needs elongated action set pieces. When it comes to movies and specifically action movies, you can have as much action as it would allow. But it doesn’t mean that you should. Imitators will try to duplicate but they will always get it wrong. The Raid 2 includes countless action scenes because it can and it does it well. Of all the many action scenes, my favorites are in the end. By far one of the best action sequences ever as it raises the stakes and action with every defeat dealt to a bad guy. What I loved about it is that it played like a video game. You can’t go into the next room until you defeat this guy. There are no health packs and it’s done in one shot. My favorite fight scene is the battle in the kitchen between Rama and a man named The Assassin. It is by far the most brutal and tense and one of the best cinematic fights I’ve ever seen. It is heightened when The Assassin takes out his weapon of choice, two kerambits and wields them with razor precision. The most interesting characters are two who don’t really say that much. Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man are so unique that further character development isn’t really needed. It would only take away the mystery of their character. As you would expect the weapons they use are included in their name and the way they use it is so cool. I love it when there are characters with everyday weapons as their specialty.
I can’t recall a more gory, blood splattering, bone crunching film. This really goes all out with violence. I was like a kid in a candy store with all the mayhem. I couldn’t wait to see the next death blow. Action movies today aren’t that violent as they were before in the 80s since comic book movies have taken over the medium and a PG-13 rating with them. With that hitting the main stream, there needs an outlet for gory action films and this directly fits the bill. It harkens back to the John Woo films of old when they revolutionized the genre with blood and bullets. More adult audiences shouldn’t be complacent when it comes to violence in action movies. They shouldn’t settle for comic book fare even though I dearly love many of those movies with all my heart. But at the same time it all depends on how much it’s marketed. Only so many people can see it if it’s not out there as much as other movies. I felt like I was lucky enough to see it in the theatre near me. One aspect of the movie that I feel should be in more fighting movies is the gory fatalities that fall on a many doomed opponents. I thought I was watching Mortal Kombat, there should have been a 3…2…1…FIGHT before every clash. And there are many all throughout the movie delivered with head bashing aplomb. It’s the equivalent of a cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae with nuts, whip cream and sprinkles. A gruesome fatality can make an excellent fight scene an all-time great. When it comes you can’t help but jump out of our seat and yell god damn. It’s hard not to get excited and feel involved in the action.
While the story in the first installment was limited in many a ways, it didn’t deter it from being a great movie. The same can’t be said for the sequel as it has a more involved, emotional and captivating story to go along with the blistering action. Many new characters are introduced as well as the main character Rama who survived the excursion at the building in the first. As soon as he gets out he gets put undercover to fish out the corruption in his police department while taking down the violent gangsters that control the city of Jakarta. There are many ups and downs in the story, going in places you’d never expect. There is a clear and concise narrative that isn’t hard to understand amid all the bloody mayhem and long running time. One negative I found and only one is that it got hard to follow in the beginning when they introduced the characters by pictures. I lost track of who was who, getting riled up from all the action but after going for a second watch it should become clearer. With a more human story, you feel for these awful characters more than you should. Like most gangster epics, there are some qualities you like in these horrible awful people. You can’t help but feel bad for them and that’s what makes it so engaging. You still obviously root for the good guy and wait for the bad guy to die but you just can’t help but feel a bit sorry for them. It is often subtle with many nuances that would be easily caught upon repeat viewings. There is much depth here, more than you would expect which gives it that much needed extra weight to carry it along between the action. I could easily compare this to past crime epics from the likes of Scorsese and Tarantino. There are many aspects between them that feel like they are from the same ilk even though they are differences among them.
The amount of characters in here that stand apart among themselves is astounding. There are so many varied personalities that you could choose any of the main characters for a movie just about them. Everyone knows Rama from the first film as the rookie cop who took down an entire army but seeing him withstand all the corruption and deceit makes his transformation from cop to gangster that much more captivating. He risks his life to protect his wife and kid, away for god knows how long. But he always keeps his wits amid everything else falling around him. He walks a fine line between being a cop meant to arrest criminals and a man with nothing to lose killing all those who get in his way. Uco is the son of crime boss Bangun who takes in Rama. He is far less conflicting in who he is and is a certifiable psychopath. He is a true scene stealer as he tries to break out of his father’s shadow to be the crime boss he always thought he was meant to be. Bejo as a crime boss was a really great character who stood out among the rest of them. His distinct style and cane wasn’t the only thing that made him different. He has visions of ruling over the old guard that currently takes over the city. He does whatever it takes to see it through with calculating manipulation and devious cunning. The character that brought in the most emotional weight was Prakoso. It was hard to gather who he was at first glance but once the layers were uncovered, you see a genuine person with a tragic back story.
The cinematography was beyond gorgeous. I loved the wide shots of the scene and then the slow pan toward the middle of the screen. Reminds me of the work from Stanley Kubrick. It really allows you to take in the background as it eases you into the dialogue of the characters. The scenery is so well detailed and constructed so as much attention is needed to appreciate it. It also helps that the art direction is great. The use of color made everything stand out and bring extra attention to it. It looked like at times like a moving painting. That combined with the lighting made the imagery crackle on screen. There are so many subtleties within the color and lighting, you feel like you’re watching an art house film sometimes and not a gory action epic. It isn’t that surprising considering Asian cinema has usually looked beautiful and more so in regards to American cinema. The close ups were also expertly used too. Being so close to the action and seeing every hit was mesmerizing. I hardly noticed the use of shaky cam. The soundtrack was especially intense which makes sense considering how insane and thrilling the movie is. I could hear a collage of genres from techno, classical and a distinct hip hop influence in the music. Most fighting movies have soundtracks with heavy bass and drums, giving the fights an added panache. But it feels more handily crafted here. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the mayhem on screen.
There are many films that can only be directed by that one singular director. While it is the case here, I don’t think there would be any person living or dead to even come close to reigning in this madness. This could only be directed by Gareth Evans who has quickly became the best action director in the world. Action films can be incredibly repetitive today especially that the style has changed drastically. You don’t see that many knock-down-drag-out spectacles littered with blood and gore. Especially martial arts movies. It certainly doesn’t help that there really isn’t an Asian main stream star to crossover in America since Jackie Chan and Jet Li are getting increasingly older. Tony Jaa is popular but nowhere near the appeal of Chan and Li. The only martial arts movie that I can recall with main stream appeal and success was Kill Bill. Even though it was released 10 years ago, it is regarded as a classic. But between that and the Raid 1, there really hasn’t been any new ground broken in the genre. Evans not only breaks the genre, he redefines it with a story akin to the best gangster epics and action that would rival Cameron and the Wachowski’s. He has confidence that many don’t have and it shows as he takes everything he can, mixes it all together and churns out brilliance. He has so much more on his plate that many directors but manages to pull everything together with seamless precision. It often moves quick but with a 2 ½ hour running time, you can’t be blamed for being a bit lost. That’s why a repeat viewing is a necessity.
There’s only so many superlatives I can unload on The Raid 2 without sounding repetitive. It is the new martial arts classic for the next generation. It may not be seen as much as it should or viewed as nothing more than a useless bloody gore fest but that is ultimately their loss. For those willing to take a cinematic journey like nothing that has ever been experienced before, it will stick in the front and back of your mind like a punch in the face. I haven’t been this blown away since The Matrix and that’s one of my top five favorite films of all time. It’s as groundbreaking and thrilling just as The Matrix was, but it will take a slower path to immortality. Its cult status will grow and eventually be appreciated by many who have missed it the first time around. But maybe it’s better this way. Seeing unprecedented genius can be hard to handle the first time. It always takes a while for it to ferment and be appreciated by the masses who have altered their mental palettes. Five gory fatalities out of five.