The Raid 2 (2014)
Gareth Evans came to Indonesia with a dream: make a documentary about pencak silat, the Indonesian national martial art. A chance meeting with a practitioner of the art, Iko Uwais, led instead to the making of the action drama Merantau, whose moderate success led The Raid: Redemption, now considered one of the best action films made.
However, that was not the movie Evans wanted to make. He had plans for an entire crime drama, involving action inside a prison, a major car chase and a number of outrageous action pieces. Problem was, that stuff costs mony, and although Merantau did decently it still did not give Evans the budget to meet his ambitions. Thus, instead of an involved crime film, we got enough plot to drive close to two hours of some of the greatest martial arts sequences seen on the big screen.
The fortunate result of the success of The Raid: Redemption is that, with the The Raid 2, Evans got to make the movie he wanted to make in the first place. Watching the fist movie would not give one the idea that Evans wants to be Francis Ford Coppola with a bit of John Woo thrown in for good measure, but this time around we get a bit of story along with the action.
Two hours after Rama's (Iko Uwais) escape from the tower block he is met by Bunawar (Cok Simbara), a cop leading a secret division to weed out corruption in the Jakarta police force. At the end of the fist movie, it is revealed that the officer that led the attack had his own reasons - to bring down the crime lord running the place and replace him. Bunawar is aiming even higher - at a police chief named Reza (Roy Marten), who is in the pocket of the crime lord Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Bunawar gives Rama the mission of getting put in the same prison as Uco (Arifin Putra), Bangun's son.
Unfortunately, what is supposed to be a few months stretches to two years. During that time Uco gets out and his father pulls some strings, resulting in Rama joining Bangun's organization as a bodyguard for Uco. The goal is still to get Reza rather than to bring down Bangun, but Rama soon gets caught up in family drama as Uco teams up with rival crime lord Bejo (Alex Abbad) to drum up a war with Japanese gang leader Goto (Ken'ichi Endo) so he can take over the organization. To make matters worse it often seems as if Rama is being hung out to dry by his own department.
In a blatant example of never being able to please an audience (something that Disney has recently found out while trying to save the Star Wars franchise), the biggest criticism I have seen of The Raid: Redemption was the lack of plot. The biggest criticism I've seen of The Raid 2 is that it has one. While the first movie was under two hours, this one is the length of something you would expect from Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese. The plot, honestly, does share a number of similarities with Infernal Affairs (which itself was remade by Scorsese as The Departed), just without the drama of the main character having to walk a thin line of cop and criminal. Rama never waivers from the side he is on, and has no moral quandaries. He's an officer doing a job, and Uco is so blinded by his want for power that the few signs Rama shows of his virtues are ignored.
Truth is, I don't think another film filled with just action sequences would have been as successful as a sequel. This does come out as one of those rare situations in which the sequel is better than the original, much of it having to do with the fact that this movie wasn't a hastily written follow-up, but had already been largely planned and choreographed before filming ever started. What we are presented here is largely on a grander scale than the first movie, so it is largely a good thing that another movie came before it. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to top the action sequences in this film. And, like the first one, Evans had to practically invent new ways of filming a good portion of it.
The results are quite grand. We have a large-scale riot in a muddy prison yard, a woman wielding duel hammers (Julie Estelle) and taking out thugs in a subway car, a baseball-obsessed killer and Bangun's machete-wielding assassin Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian). We have a car chase that puts many of the classic '70s ones to shame, appearing in some ways to be filmed in the style of some of the chases from the original Mad Max (that is, with barely any safety concern for all involved, especially the cameramen). When the poster declares this as being one of the best action films of all time, it's not hyperbole.
It's not a perfect film. Some of the criticisms abut the plot getting in the way of the action are warranted, since, unlike the action, it is nothing new or revolutionary. There are number of times when the digital blood on screen is quite noticeable (especially since fake blood and practical effects are used in many scenes, and look better than the digital ones), and occasionally the edits are a bit too recognizable. But, warts and all, it is a success. In many cases ambition falls way short of ability, and Evans had the foresight to delay production until he could get what he wanted.
The other intelligent thing he did was end it here. A second sequel was planned, but Evans moved back the UK and got involved with other projects. While, the possibility is still out there, leaving it as it is would be most advisable, as The Raid 2 creates a new benchmark for other directors to try to outdo. Besides, it's hard enough to make a second movie better than the first, and it has proven largely impossible to ever do that with a third.
The Raid 2 (2014)
Time: 150 minutes
Starring: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad
Director: Gareth Evans