9 April 2014

THE RAID 2- Review

Words like "breakthrough", "smash" and "hit" are bandied around quite a bit when it comes to surprisingly successful films, and particularly when those films happen to have been made in a language other than English. But seldom have such violent descriptors fit the bill quite so enjoyably as Gareth Evans' The Raid, a brutal nuts-and-bolts actioner that made art out of the simplest of plots.

The Raid 2 definitely feels some of the pressure that comes from following up such a well-received martial arts flick, and Evans has made a brave stab (along with a quick kick and punch while you're still flinching) at escalating the story. Starting shortly after the exhaustive tower block antics of the first film, SWAT cop Rama is extracted the wreckage by infernal affairs, and recruited to infiltrate Jakarta's ruling crime syndicate with a view to bringing it down. What follows involves a considerably greater amount of punching, kicking, stabbing, hammering and batting(!) than the whole premise of going undercover would initially suggest.

I recently wrote about second movie syndrome elsewhere, and came to the conclusion that there's no real good reason why we're much harder on a sequel than we ever would be on its predecessor- it only encourages certain filmmakers to up the ante as they try to avert disappointment and instead walk slap-bang into it. There's an aspect of that in Evans' follow-up, which forsakes the universal quality of the first film's extraordinary choreography and violence for an ambitious and yet much less successful crime plot.

The posters have trumpeted the film as "the Dark Knight of action movies", (which sort of begs the question of what The Dark Knight was, if not an action movie) and you can see how Evans has played into that, but the long and the short of it is that this kind of storytelling (which is in Indonesian, to be fair to the Welsh filmmaker) is not his strong suit. His fight scenes are unparalleled, and The Raid 2 has four or five action scenes that qualify the sequel as essential viewing, but he struggles to bring anything close to the same energy forth in the dialogue scenes, as interchangeable mobsters engage in macho feuds.

It's still not a complicated plot, and it's not hard to follow, but the sudden influx of new characters of different allegiances puts a strain on things, and engorges the sequel to an unwieldy 150 minute running time. Every now and then, the combatants will lurch into becoming characters, and Iko Uwais' Rama is much more nuanced in the first 10 minutes of the second run-around than he was throughout the whole of the first film. There's also a welcome repeat appearance from Yayan Ruhian, whose Mad Dog was the unforgettable Big Bad last time around, as an entirely different character, and in terms of acting, Arifin Putra is by far the best of the new additions, as a petty and dangerous second-in-command.

Many have praised the two-fer of Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl, quite rightly, but it's not down to the performances. While they'd be the most memorable part of any martial arts film, they may well have gained a few extra points for staying well away from the Departed-style histrionics of this one. Either way, they're proof positive that Evans' sequel is at its best when coming up with imaginative and innovative violence, whether it's the early prison-wide skirmish, the thumping final confrontations (count 'em, there's about three of them) or any of those in between. Personally, I loved the motorway scene- probably the best fight/car chase since the one in The Matrix Reloaded- the most.

While it feels contradictory to put a sequel down for being ambitious, The Raid 2 wastes an awful lot of energy on exposition and expansion of the shady criminal syndicates that were alluded to in the first film, walling itself in as the centre piece of a crime movie trilogy, rather than elaborating upon the simple grace of its predecessor. Eventually, the running time cushions the blunt force trauma of the superb action scenes, and leaves you feeling more exhausted than engrossed by the time of the bloody climax. Part two loses something irretrievable in terms of impact, but holds its own for long enough to get us curious, if not quite as excited, for part three.

The Raid 2 is released in selected cinemas nationwide on Friday.
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If you've seen The Raid 2, why not share your comments below? Do we think that Dredd 2 would be a better version of this as well?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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