The Raid 2 is an action-packed epic
I loved The Raid. The compact, tightly constructed original was slick, refined and relentless with tension. Plus, it gave an overwhelming sense of desperation, claustrophobia and frantic pace. After the bar was set ridiculously high with the first film, and having watched only a small handful of clips and teasers for the sequel, I was ready to have the bar raised once again. What I was surprised about and, in retrospect, refreshed with was that director Gareth Evans took his franchise in a new and ambitious direction.
Although the sequel is set immediately after the events of the first film, stepping away from the claustrophic confines of the tower block, a new gang war erupts on the streets of Jakarta as young cop Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover to infiltrate the criminal underworld. In The Raid 2: Berandal, the city is the playground, with locations across the whole city serving as an arena for turf disputes, assassinations and full-scale gang wars. The violence and action is, without doubt, more varied and remarkably manages to raise the bar above that of the first film. The action here is on a whole new scale, with enormous brawls, weapon battles, shootouts, car chases and stunts on another level.
At 150 minutes, the film is quite an epic. It's never boring but some may be surprised to see an unusually long action spectacle of this sort. I certainly was. However, the film is well paced and features a lot of drama, character development and, in my mind, this is really where the epic gangster "feel" comes in. Reminding me of slow-burning gangster movies from the likes of "Beat" Takeshi Kitano (one of my favourite filmmakers), the film emphasises scenes of gang rivalries, power plays, table negotiations and, of course, brutal retaliations. It's nice to see these elements incorporated into an action film and serve as the build up to the inevitable, bloody pay-off.
Another aspect to enjoy is that, now, we are introduced to new characters, almost in the vein of a Quentin Tarantino flick. With their quirky traits and signature weapons, they serve as worthy adversaries for our hero to bring down.
The fights and stunts are, as expected, absolutely mind-blowing with extremely inventive choreography, shot in Evans' slick, clean style and utilising the physical skill and timing of the actors and stunt players. No shaky-cam here - just quality physical action framed well and shot tightly. Big props go to Iko, co-star Yayan Ruhian and Larnell Stovall for the fight choroeography. The car stunts are exceptional and add a new dimension to the action, raising the stakes and taking the movie out of "fight film" territory into the arena of a true, bonafide action blockbuster. Bruce Law and his car stunt team did an amazing job for these segments of the action. It's pure action spectacle and genre fans will love it.
Overall, I'd have to admit I didn't feel The Raid 2 was quite the same tightly-knit package of the first film. As an overall piece of filmmaking, the first worked better for me in this regard. It was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart that kicked in and never let up. The sequel is a rollercoaster with twists and turns throughout the journey. It's just different. If treated as a whole new piece of work, an evolution if you will, the sequel is pretty spectacular and marks a new chapter as a gangster epic - laced with the quality of hardcore action we've come to expect from this team. The Raid 2 is an exceptional achievement and a new beacon for action filmmaking.