In 2012, Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption almost literally tore through the screen as it forced its way into the discussion of modern action film classics. The Raid 2 picks up shortly where the first film left off, and focuses on the rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), one of the few cops to have actually made it out of The Raid alive. While the first film’s villain, Tama, is rotting with a bullet in his skull, he was merely a symptom of the city’s rampant crime and corruption, and Rama’s life remains in danger despite having survived the raid. He is thus convinced/coerced into going undercover in order to help take down the crime bosses and, more importantly, the corrupt power within the police force. This begins with Rama going to prison in order to get close to a crime-boss’ son, and it’s within this prison that we get our first fight scene.
And it’s spectacular, both breathtaking and gruesome, as many of the first film’s scenes were. But the difference here is the scope. No longer confined to small rooms and hallways, Evans is able to present broader, choreographed mayhem, and this prison yard brawl is as much a ballet (albeit with more stabbing, bone breaking and mud than your typical Swan Lake performance) as it is a fight. Those expecting a mere repeat of the first film will be sorely disappointed, as The Raid 2 is not a simple rehash of what came before. The Raid was narrow in its scope and, as I noted back then, “it [was] first and foremost and action film,” because the emphasis was almost unilaterally on the action. With The Raid 2, Evans has broadened the scope and shifted the emphasis to deliver a movie that, while just as spectacular as the first, emphasizes the “film” over the action. This is telegraphed in the film’s very first shot, which opens on vast field where, from a distance well above and away, we watch a man being hauled over to a freshly-dug open grave. Given how this film is much larger in scope and scale than its predecessor, this wide open field is an apt metaphor for everything that is to come.
And this applies not just to the action sequences, but to the movie’s plot itself. The first movie was really just about a task force ascending a building. Here, the small bit of plot I gave you above covers less than the first third of the film. Over the next two hours, we come to meet both Indonesian and Japanese crime families, and a host of characters with varied motivations and goals within the criminal world that Evans has built. As Rama is told at one point in the film, “none of us are spiders, we’re all part of a big f*cking web,” and that’s exactly what The Raid 2 gives us, a big f*cking web. And it’s a web that quickly grabs hold of the viewer in a way that differs fundamentally from the first film. In watching The Raid one simply wants to get to the next action piece. Here, however, the action is secondary to everything else, which is why I say it is more of an action film. The dialogue, the plot, and the characterizations are all important here, and much more expressive and nuanced than in the first film. And Evans advances himself as a director, continuing to present unique fight sequences but expanding to also give us beautifully framed and shot scenes in between the action. And Evans’ unique directorial eye extends to the action sequences themselves, particularly in a late set of scenes where three contemporaneous scenes are intercut in increasingly tense, and ultimately gory, fashion.
Most viewers, myself included, found the first film’s singular focus on action glorious. However, there was a minority of dissent siding with Roger Ebert, who panned the flick and found the wall-to-wall violence pointless and catering to video game fanboys. Notwithstanding the broader scope of the film, The Raid 2 remains a violently action-packed film with some brutal moments that will make even the hardest stomachs quiver. Those that found the first film unnecessarily violent will likely have the same complaints here, despite the more developed story. Those people, for the record, are p*ssies. But for the rest of us, The Raid 2 is awesome.
The Raid 2 premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and screened at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival. It rocked everyone’s balls.