The Raid 2 (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Not since Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” have I felt so exhilarated after having seen an action picture packed with glorious violence that is very gruesome but actually highly entertaining—even if its running time is a hundred fifty minutes. Written and directed by Gareth Evans, do not be fooled by the synopses of “The Raid 2: Berandal.” It is not just a movie for men. It is a movie for everyone who can appreciate visual acrobatics through martial arts. Oh, and it offers a memorable car chase, too.
Rama (Iko Uwais—who clearly has the goods to carry a big-budget Hollywood action flick) agrees to go undercover in order to discover the identities of crooked cops. To do this, he must get in the good graces of a gangster’s son named Uco (Arifin Putra). The catch: Uco is currently incarcerated and so Rama must commit a crime, one that will impress the man of interest—or at least snag his attention, in order to be thrown behind bars.
American filmmakers who wish to have some sort of a hand-to-hand combat in their work should look up to this movie for inspiration. It is generous with wide shots, the editing is never choppy so we can actually appreciate each punch and kick thrown, it knows when to use silence so we can wince at every blow, and the style—whether in terms of location, style of clothing, sort of weapons wielded—changes with every big action scene. It is such a joy to watch this level of creativity. The writer-director knows his material is over-the-top but he has fun with it. Thus, we enjoy what’s projected on screen.
Its story and characterization are not the film’s strongest attributes. The story is standard and unable to move forward at times but it is solid enough because we really do believe that the gangsters, once rivals, have a truce and could be on the verge of war given a powerful enough push. In terms of character development, I wished that Rama had more of a backstory. He wants to protect his wife and young son from harm but what else is there to him? In action films, it is almost always that the central protagonist is not the most interesting character. It would have been fresh icing on the cake if Evans had found a way to turn that around.
More than half of the action sequences stand out. The prison fight scene in the mud is shockingly beautiful and well-choreographed. The way it starts off with so much verve and kinetics then ending with a slow descent into exhaustion shows clear command of pacing. The one and only car chase during the latter half makes American car chases look like a joke. Here, we are actually able to feel the danger inside and outside of the cars—even if they do not smash against each other.
However, in my eyes, the best is saved for the finale. Rama’s duels with Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), and The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman) is close to perfection every step of the way. I was so into it, I found myself saying things like: “Break his arm!”, “Hit his face with the bat!”, and “I don’t care if she’s a girl. Hit her harder! She has two [expletive] hammers and she’s about to pound your face in!” Clearly, I loved every single minute of it.
“The Raid 2” is shot, directed, and choreographed with great skill. If one went into it hoping for a well-drawn and executed character arc, one would likely to be disappointed. But if one were hoping for an symphony of violence that engages all the senses, this would likely impress. It has to be seen to be believed.