The Raid 2 (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

Raid2 75The Raid 2 is a great film. 

 

Raid2 500

A quick note about the title of this film. When The Raid was released in America, it was given the subtitle Redemption. By that time they knew that there would be sequels, and for some reason the studio felt that they needed to get a colon in there early. Then the sequel, The Raid: Berandal, was made, but Berandal (the Indonesian word for “thugs”) doesn’t mean anything here, so as far as I can tell, the US title is simply The Raid 2, completely defeating the purpose of adding the subtitle to the first film. By the way, there is no redemption in The Raid: Redemption, and there is no raid in The Raid 2. Long story short, titles are dumb.

The Raid was a great, fun action movie. I felt like some of the hyperbole it inspired in fans was a bit over the top, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t love it. It had a brutal intensity which I’ve rarely seen matched, and if you buy into the idea of “instant classics” The Raid certainly qualifies. It set a high bar, and it was unclear if writer director Gareth Evans would be able to reach the same heights with the follow-up. But with the skill I normally associate with the very best directors, he has made a sequel which is better than the original is almost every regard.

The plot of the first film is the definition of bare bones. It’s basically a video game setup for constant action sequences, to the point that I actually got annoyed when it took a break to do some character development. The Raid 2 has a much denser story. In the last film, our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais) uncovered a web of conspiracy, which he now learns spreads much farther than he could have imagined. To keep things under control, his superiors decide to cover up the events of the first film and send Rama deep undercover in an attempt to get to the bottom of things.

Whereas the first film took place over the course of a few hours, this one is a crime epic which spans years. Rama spends two years in prison, winning the trust of a major crime boss’ son, and then spends quite a bit of time working undercover for the syndicate. It’s basically The Departed (or Infernal Affairs, depending on your preference) but with incredible action scenes added along the way. There’s even a suspenseful moment involving a ringing cell phone. The change can be attributed to the fact that this movie started out as a script called Berandal, which Gareth Evans was trying to make years ago, but he was unable to get the proper budget. He opted to make The Raid instead and then tweaked his earlier script to act as a sequel. This might throw some people off, but I love when sequels have a different feel from their predecessors. One of the reasons I love the Alien franchise is that each film (even the bad ones) have a unique style and tone. It’s why Marvel can get away with putting out so many movies in a short period of time. They are all connected, but they each feel like a different genre. I’m thrilled that Rama doesn’t find himself back in the same situation, a la Die Hard 2, and instead finds himself caught up in a much bigger story.

In The Raid, I was a bit lukewarm on Iko Uwais. He was obviously an incredible martial artist, but he didn’t seem like a star. He wasn’t unlikable like Tony Jaa (who has always come off as a bit of a prick) but he didn’t have the charisma of a Bruce Lee or Donny Yen. Here, we get to spend more time with him, and I ended up liking him a lot more. Most of his performance is all in his face, and he handles his numerous close-ups well. It actually retroactively made me like him more in the first film. He’s also surrounded by a very strong supporting cast. They are all playing archetypes, but I don’t mind when it is done this well.

The Raid was a very well-shot film, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. The Raid 2 is beautiful. Like the story, the camera is able to slow down and take in the environments, and the opening shot reminded me of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which isn’t a reference I expected to make. In the dialogue scenes, the cinematography has a clean, deliberate look reminiscent of the films of Nicolas Winding Refn, and in the action scenes, it cuts loose, getting back to the style of the first film, but again, prettier. Gareth Evans is blessed to have actors and stunt teams who can do incredible things. It would be enough to simply stand back with the camera and let us watch them perform, but Evans and his cinematographer Matt Flannery go the extra mile. The camera engages the action, becoming a character in it. It’s a cliché to say that it “puts the audience in the action” and that usually means close-up shaky cam nonsense. Evans puts you in the action without ever obscuring it. His shots are kinetic and exciting, and feel like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s what separates the great action directors from the good ones.

I know that I have spent a lot of time comparing The Raid 2 to its predecessor, but comparing it to Hollywood action movies like Need for Speed would just be unfair. This movie cost 4 million dollars (that’s 1/50th of a Transformers) and it effortlessly walks all over any studio-produced spectacle. I’m sure some people will argue for the efficiency of the first film, and I get it. This one is about forty minutes longer, and in the long run may be less re-watchable. But as it stands right now, I thinks it’s miles above what was accomplished before. The Raid is a great collection of action scenes. The Raid 2 is a great film. | Sean Lass

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