Anyone who has been following The Watchers blog since the beginning will know that Gareth Evans’ martial arts action thriller The Raid sparked a fair bit of controversy when Rhys and Tez reviewed it: they walked out of the cinema and gave it 1 out of 5. Was that a tiny bit harsh? Honestly, I think it was. The Raid was released on a mass of hype, critics calling it one of the greatest (some sticking their neck out and calling it the greatest) action films ever made. I try not to get caught up in the hype surrounding a film, but with The Raid I was expecting great things, something that justified the buzz around it. Personally, I thought The Raid was an enjoyable enough two hours, but I couldn’t understand why it had critics swooning over it. The choreography was staggering to watch, the violence far more fierce than the edited for teenagers action films from the US; the issue I had was with how Evans filmed the fight scenes. There were times where it felt like Evans simply got the cameras rolling and yelled “Action!” Fights that would have been astonishing to witness on set lost something when caught on camera. It didn’t help that most of the footage was handheld, Evans’ editing occasionally firing several shots at the viewer in only a few seconds, sometimes making it difficult to work out what was happening. 2012 saw two films centred around a raid on a tower block, released barely a month apart at the cinema. While I preferred Dredd as a grim, violent dose of action, it was The Raid that audiences flocked to see, hence why a sequel was given the go ahead (with a third film recently announced).
With The Raid 2, undercover cop Rama (Iko Uwais) is no longer fighting for his life in a rundown tower block, this time he is taking on Jakarta’s criminal underworld as well as its corrupt police force in a narrative influenced by complex, table-turning gangster films such as Michael Mann’s Heat and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables.
Rather than subscribe to what most sequels usually do – the law of diminishing returns – Evans has taken everything from his first film and made it bigger, both in terms of scale and ambition. You know a film has more than its fair share of set pieces when everyone who sees it will have their own favourite: a fight in a prison toilet cubicle crammed with dozens of inmates; a punch-up in a nightclub that moves between different platforms and floors; fists flying in the back seat of a car that is getting shot to pieces – these are just some of the many fights in The Raid 2’s two-and-a-half hours. A personal highlight is where three clashes in different locations are edited together to look like one seamless battle; Baseball Bat Man (that’s his character’s name in the credits!), in an abandoned building, swings to hit a victim with his bat, but before we see the blow, we cut to Hammer Girl (again, no messing, tells you all you need to know), on an underground train, swiping a man in the face. This display continues for several minutes and looks fantastic throughout.
While Evans has toned down the editing this time round, preferring Scorsese’s GoodFellas-style continuous shots and getting right in the middle of the action (you worry that the camera crew must have accidentally been kicked/punched/stabbed), he still films everything using shaky handheld cameras. I can understand why, it adds to The Raid 2’s dogged, rough around the edges feel, but every once in a while you find yourself struggling to make out the odd move or stunt. This is just my taste, but I prefer early martial arts films such as Five Fingers of Death or The Streetfighter, where the camera stays still, positioned to give the best view of the action, with only the occasional cut to another shot. The cinematography in The Raid 2 isn’t flawless, but it is an enormous improvement on the original film.
Everyone who saw The Raid talked about one thing; the violence. Unlike Taken 2, which cut away at even the smallest hint of bloodshed to ensure a 12A certificate, The Raid 2 outdoes the first film, with plenty of moments that will make cinema audiences groan or laugh awkwardly. Evans knows where to draw the line, however; this isn’t torture porn you’re watching, it’s over-the-top, comic book violence with oceans of blood thrown at the screen. Evans will happily show viewers what happens when someone is hit or slashed with a hammer, but the truly grotesque violence is all hinted at off-screen.
Fans of action films don’t go to see them for convincing performances, they watch them for the explosions, the car chases, and seeing people get beaten up in all sorts of creative ways. If you have Alan Rickman as the bad guy, then that’s an added bonus. Everyone in The Raid 2 does a solid job acting-wise. Uwais gets to flex more of his acting muscles this time round as his morals are tested: he is let down by the police, who have forgotten about him now he is undercover, yet he is forced to witness, or be involved in, the savage goings on of Jakarta’s criminal gangs. There are moments when Uwais is alone in his apartment, struggling to cope with what he has been made to do. Arifin Putra gives The Raid 2’s best performance as the main villain, wanting to usurp his father’s legacy and wipe out his gangland rivals. Putra is arrogant, even petulant when he argues with his father, but most of the time he is unnervingly calm, a wild look in his eyes, lashing out with no warning (with The Raid 2, lashing out means shooting someone in the head or threatening to put a microphone somewhere it’s never meant to go). You forget that it’s been a while since there was any action in the film because Putra is so intense, at times frightening, to watch.
The Raid 2 will divide fans who worship the original. With The Raid, you could watch it with your brain on autopilot; The Raid 2 asks you to concentrate as alliances are formed and broken, characters double-crossing each other. Fans of The Raid, who expected the sequel to be the same film on a bigger budget, are going to be surprised.
Gareth Evans’ sequel isn’t perfect; by swapping the single location of a tower block to the whole of Jakarta, The Raid 2 loses the frenzied pace of the first film. The Godfather’s three-hour running time felt justified as Michael Corleone is dragged deeper and deeper into the family business, but The Raid 2’s narrative, while an intriguing guessing game of who’s going to betray who, doesn’t feel quite solid enough to warrant two-and-a-half hours. You get the sense that Evans was handed the money to make a sequel and told to do whatever he likes, which he did; fans of The Raid will have to decide if that’s for better or worse.
3 out of 5