Thursday, March 27, 2014

"The Raid 2" Review: An Ambitiously Epic Opera Of Violence That Will Make Your Eyes Bleed & Feet Tremble

It has taken nearly 2 weeks after watching The Raid 2 to find a proper way to describe unto you just how impossibly amazing every single bone crunching, face kicking, hammer hitting minute of Gareth Evans' new martial arts masterpiece is.  While the first film, The Raid: Redemption, was in a league of its own when it came to mind blowing action sequences and some of the most violently beautiful beatdowns ever committed to screen, his much more grand and ambitious sequel The Raid 2 expands upon its perfection in nearly every conceivable way. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: Harmony Gold Theater L.A.
Time:7:00 pm, March 13, 2014       
Projector Type: Digital 2D         
Film Rating: R             
Film Runtime: 2 hr 20 min    
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

Loves: The Raid: Redemption, Martial Arts movies, Action movies
Likes: The expanded and deeper story
Neutral: Despite it's length, I want more.
Hates: That a third chapter won't be happening for a while
Subtitles?: Don't be a baby, go see it now!

Picking up a mere two hours after the first film ended we find rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), one of the only survivors of a raid on a crimelords sanctuary that went horribly wrong, faced with an impossible decision. Either he joins a group looking to out all corruption in the city by going undercover to infiltrate one of the two controlling crime families running the city, or he goes it alone which will certainly lead to his death and the death of his own family. Rama then finds himself deep within the Bangun crime organization where he soon realizes that he is on his own and surrounded by enemies where his only real option is to take down everyone before they take him out.

The first Raid was a modest little film in scope. In action it was what some would consider to be on an epic scale of brutality, and they would be right in labeling it so. But even despite the level of badassery on display at all times with some of the most intricate and detailed throwdowns ever seen, the film felt small in comparison. This wasn't a problem however as most found the claustrophobic environment of a rundown apartment building filled with bloodthirsty killers of all types the perfect staging grounds for the madness and mayhem that was provided.

But in his sequel, writer/director Gareth Evans has somehow find a way to improve on that perfection. Keeping intact the chaotic and impossibly violent ballet of carnage that action fans the world over clamored for, he has broadened the scope from the interior of a single apartment complex to encompass an entire city where the danger is tenfold and the stakes are higher than they ever have been before. He has crafted a sequel that takes everything we loved about the original and made it bigger, bloodier and even more badass than anyone could have imagined.

The story in the first film was pretty light and uninteresting. It focused primarily on two brothers who took different paths and eventually found a common ground to work together. It wasn't horrible and served the action well, but in the end it wasn't all that noteworthy or even all that memorable. The sequel aims to fix that problem and comes out swinging with an epic crime saga that will likely be compared to classics such as The Godfather and Goodfellas and done so favorably.

The word epic gets thrown around a lot by people without giving much thought to its actual meaning, nor whether or not the film in question is actually deserving of such a label. It can relate to length, which The Raid 2 is very long. It can relate to a heroes journey, which Rama's is off the scale incredible. But most of all, the word epic can be used to describe the scale of the film and the scope of its ambitions. The Raid 2 is almost deceiving in a way at first, as it's true epic nature isn't truly revealed until the point you realize just how intricate and complex the motivations are for all the well drawn characters and how combustible it all is when their paths become intertwined.

The film is restless in its attempts at throwing new and intriguing curveballs into its already ambitious storytelling. What starts out as a man on a mission to take down the crime families of the underworld quickly transforms into a family drama of sorts where the family just so happens to wield firearms and won't hesitate to put down one of its own to send a message. When Rama eventually achieves his goal and is integrated into Bangun's organization, the film then morphs ever so eloquently into a story about the inner politics of that organization where even we forget for a while that he is in fact working against them, not for them.

Interesting complications keep popping up as a ridiculously large cast of characters continue to get introduced that takes this simple story of a man out for revenge and turns it into a crime opera where no one is to be trusted other than the fact that they will all eventually double-cross the other. Words cannot truly express just how remarkable of an achievement this film is on a purely story based level. Not everyone is painted as just a good or bad guy. In the end they are all criminals, but they are loyalty driven criminals who live by a code. But when that code is broken, even the traditional labels of loyalty get blurred as the bodies start to fall and the blame is tossed around.

Then, at the center of all these conspiracies and betrayals there is Rama, who we almost forget is their ultimate betrayal due to him being an undercover officer. But even that has some wrenches thrown into the works when certain things are revealed about the operation he is working for to take down the families that make him and us question who exactly he is doing all this for. The only thing that stays true and steady throughout is his unbounded need to reunite with his family and put all this madness behind him. If you haven't been able to tell by now, The Raid 2 has improved immeasurably upon its predecessor when it comes to telling a story and making that story just as relevant as the action set pieces that everyone came for.

Speaking of the action, it almost seems irrelevant to go into detail about how the action quota this time around has been pushed to absolutely absurd levels of insanity. Like any good action film, it builds to each and every encounter in a way that will have audiences tensed up and hoping their next adrenaline release will be just around the corner. Evans has outdone himself this time around with not only the level of assbeating that happens, but the diverse locations and the exhaustively fine-detailed choreography that has gone into each sequence.

One of the best assets the first film had was its claustrophobic location. The long and narrow hallways and the small rooms of the apartment complex were the perfect excuse to engage in a number of close quarters brawls, but with expanding the playing ground to an entire city felt like not only a daunting task, but one that could hurt the kinetic flow that first film was able to achieve in such small environments. Not that this should come as any surprise, but Evans has done the impossible and constructed a number of epic (there's that word again) fight sequences that will likely go down in history as some of the best ever staged.

Instead of a solely confined location, we get a bevy of different and unique locales to watch Rama and company beat the everliving shit out of each other in. From a single man fighting a hoard of bad guys from within the confines of a single toilet stall, to a prison riot that takes place in muddied field or subway car filled with innocent bystanders, the action never feels redundant and never ever feels like we have seen its like before. Evans gracefully moves between these outlandish spectacles of blood and broken bones to these more operatic scenes, such as a beautiful showdown in a snow covered alleyway, which helps give each and every action set piece its own unique flavor.

Evans loves his tools of destruction as well, where as the first film was chock full of automatic weapons, machetes and knives along with the usual fists and feet action, in his sequel he ups the ante to include such items as a metal baseball bat that will make you cringe every time it makes contact with a person's head, dual hammers that are responsible for some of the films more gratuitously violent sequences and even a fully stocked kitchen which is the staging ground for the film's most elaborate and exhaustive action sequence. That's to say nothing of the car chase that is easily one of the best in history and even more impressive when you discover how it was actually shot.

Not that this needs to be said, but The Raid 2 has no shortage of action that will make you lose control of your bodily functions while its ballet of broken bones and mutilated corpses fill the blood soaked screen. None of that would be possible without the talent behind the scenes that Evans has gathered to be part of this series. Scoring Iko Uwais as the lead is the equivalent of finding the new Bruce Lee, Jet Li or Jackie Chan, as he is one of the few action stars out there that is able to command the screen whether he is kicking the crap out of someone or if he is given a line of dialog to deliver. He can do it all and it is very exciting that this is only the beginning of what will be a long and illustrious career for the young actor.

All the new faces that show up are fantastic as well, both in how well they kick and act. Standouts from the immense and large cast are Arifin Putra as the spoiled brat Uco and Alex Abbad as the crippled crime boss Bejo who help make the already fantastic story that unfolds become that much more engrossing. On the action front there is a number of people that could be put on a pedestal, but the two individuals that will likely go down in history as the films most memorable duo are Very Tri Yulisman as Baseball bat man and Julie Estelle as Hammer girl. While their weaponry helps define them, their skills help make them the action icons they will assuredly become. The return of Yayan Ruhian, who plays a different character in the sequel, will also be extremely welcomed by fans of the first film who were wowed by his impeccable martial arts skill.

Any way you slice it, The Raid 2 comes out as a blistering success as both an action movie and a story based crime saga. The Raid 2 is to The Raid: Redemption as The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars. That is to say that while the first Raid will always be remembered as the film that introduced us to this ambitious action series, The Raid 2 takes everything we loved about the original and expands upon it in ridiculously amazing ways that just makes the original smaller in comparison. Is one better than the other? That is an impossible question, as both work perfectly for what they are. But together, they are an undeniable force to be reckoned with.


The Raid 2 is the Empire Strikes Back of sequels. It's much more epic in scope and expands upon the original film in logical ways, but keeps all of its amazing action set pieces personal and tense despite having a larger canvas. We get introduced to a stable of new, interesting and very dangerous individuals who will become instant fan favorites and a story full of plot twists, feuding gangs and internal politics that go horribly awry. This is a sequel that not only delivers on the unparalleled expectations brought on by its predecessor, it completely obliterates them with a level of exhaustive punishment to the senses on a whole new ridiculous level never seen before. This isn't the greatest action movie ever made, this is the greatest action epic ever made.

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