THE RAID 2 has alot of what made THE RAID an instant classic:
1. Incredible fight performances and choreography by Iko Uwais (returning as silat-practicing rookie cop Rama, now undercover as “Yuda” [weirdly that was also his name in MERANTAU]), Yayan Ruhian (as a new character named Koso, since his great villain character Mad Dog eventually gave in and died) and a whole bunch of other great martial artists.
2. Action scenes crammed with fast, unrelenting brutality including many, many, many stabbings, headshots, bodyparts smashed through walls, slit throats, broken bones, etc.
But there’s one thing that’s really different:
THE RAID stood out by having very little setup and launching almost immediately into nearly non-stop action for its 101 minutes, with its minimalistic characterization and plot woven into the battles and occasional breaks. THE RAID 2 is 2 1/2 hours and takes its sweet ass time getting to the action, which is threaded through a complicated and somewhat difficult to follow gang warfare story involving more than 10 main characters from many different factions with different secret betrayals and shit going on. The first one took place in one day, this begins immediately after but spans a few years. In the first section it also skips around in time, creating suspense by repeatedly cutting away from the moments before Rama has to fight like 20 guys in a prison bathroom. It even has the balls to set up a big fight (Rama has to beat up a politician’s son bad enough to get himself into prison to befriend his target) that it skips over and never comes back to. So story-wise it’s pretty much the opposite of THE RAID.
That’s not some slip-up. Writer/director Gareth Evans really wanted to tell this story first, and only came up with THE RAID’s smaller “police squad have to fight their way to the top of an apartment building” premise when they couldn’t get the financing. His first movie, MERANTAU (also starring Uwais and Ruhian) was also long and plot-oriented, even in its abbreviated international cut.
The story involves Rama being recruited by Bunawar (Cok Simbara), head of a secret back room anti-corruption unit, to go undercover in a gang. They’re working under the theory that they can’t clean up corruption in Jakarta without taking out the guys at the top and that if they don’t clean up Jakarta then Rama’s wife and kid will be in danger. So Rama tells the fam he has to go on a secret mission and gets himself in prison, where he impresses Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of the mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) enough to get a job as a foot soldier in the gang when they get out.
So we get alot of standard but compelling undercover tropes: trying to not seem too eager, trying to not get caught wearing a wire, having to gain trust and respect, having to kill people in the name of passing as a gangster, etc. Like in the first one Rama’s family are a briefly-seen motivating factor for him, but there’s a very effective scene where he calls home long after he thought he’d be back, just to hear their voices, and unable to explain what’s going on. For all this poor lady knows he’s on Brokeback Mountain. It’s very sad.
Meanwhile there’s a brewing gang war, with a young hotshot named Bejo (Alex Abbad, but if you told me it was Sacha Baron Cohen I might believe you) plotting to take over by turning Bangun’s people against the Yakuza Goto (Kenichi Endo, VISITOR Q). And each of the mob bosses have potential successors and advisors and top assassins.
The most interesting of them as an actual character is Uco, who has a sort of petulant jealousy about not being as high up in the gang as he thinks he deserves. At first I felt kinda sorry for him and then you see him taking it out in a very uncool way on service people (well, hookers actually). He proves to be not a good person, in my opinion, whether going by societal standards, gangster codes of honor or just basic etiquette.
Ruhian stole THE RAID as Mad Dog, the henchman who enjoys a good fight so much he not only puts away the guns but unties one of his victims so he can take on two fighters at once. As Koso he’s not allowed the same weight (he never fights Rama) but does briefly take over the movie when it goes off on a tangent about him. He’s some kind of homeless, machete-wielding psycho called in to murder a bunch of people, but then he gets some of our sympathy because
2) he’s betrayed and has to try to fight an army of killers by himself
1) an awkward dinner with the ex-wife.
The most memorable new characters are just called “Hammer Girl” and “Baseball Bat Man,” and they’re two assassins (siblings I think?). They’re great because they suddenly appear in the movie when they’re sent on a mission where they cause a massive amount of carnage using the tools they’re respectively named after. We can’t help but kinda like them because they’re so good at what they do and what they do is unique. Hammer Girl is mysterious: she’s deaf and always wears sunglasses, and looks so much more innocent than she actually is. There’s a really funny moment when she’s sitting at the bar, back to the camera, and gets called into action. The way she sweeps up her two hammers (sitting on the bar!) as she shuffles away is hilarious.
After we see what they can do they disappear until they have to do it to Rama. This is a perfectly elegant way to set up a great fight scene, my favorite in the movie. Simplicity worthy of THE RAID.
I know everybody’s gonna love Hammer Girl, because what kind of a fuckin asshole wouldn’t love Hammer Girl. But let me put in a word for Baseball Bat Man, so he won’t end up being underrated. He deserves praise for his theatrical use of a bat to announce his presence (dragging it along on the ground), the dramatic ping of the aluminum hitting walls and other objects even when he misses, the hilarious way he hits baseballs at his victims and then asks them to throw them back, and for getting the best death in the movie. This guy is awesome. I think he should be called Slugger though.
Seeing THE ACT OF KILLING gave me a different view of Indonesia, where I almost believe this depiction where 90% of the population must be made up of violent criminals and corrupt cops. There are some normal citizens around, and in two scenes groups of them (subway commuters, a kitchen staff) see that some shit is about to go down, take a moment to gulp and then hustle on out the door. And despite having so much more story than the last time around there’s still room here for alot of shit to go down. One amazing highlight is a fight that takes place inside an SUV involved in a high speed chase and shootout. A motorcycle gets involved. Okay, it’s very similar to THE MATRIX RELOADED, which also had car-passenger martial arts (and seatbelts wrapped around necks), but it’s amazing and feels like a sequence of stunts, not special effects.
It’s a beautifully shot movie with some compositions that seem designed only for the big screen, for example the long opening shot I think will be hard to make out on a regular sized TV because the people are so small in it. I especially love the uses of overhead shots during a few crucial scenes. But it should be noted that the majority of the fight footage is shot handheld and fairly close to the action. For me it was dizzying at times but for the most part not disorienting since the shots are held much longer than the modern standard. It really shows that editing is a bigger post-action problem than shakycam, but harder to put your finger on.
I might’ve made a mistake by going to the first show of the day. Of course I couldn’t wait, but seeing it in a mostly empty theater in the early afternoon was a strong contrast to the revival tent experience I had seeing THE RAID on opening night, when they foolishly put it in the smallest theater and it was sold out with the most vocally enthusiastic crowd of all time. Then again it’s a different type of movie, and it’s hard to imagine a mob of people maintaining that level of pumped-uppedness through all the long, quiet dialogue scenes.
At least I got something out of the kid in the box office. When I said “One for THE RAID 2” he looked up from his intricate monster drawing and shouted “The Raid 2!? Oh, you’re gonna love it, sir!” I thought he might climb out of there and high five me he was so excited.
I should’ve said, “No, I said Rio 2.” He would’ve been so bummed. It’s funny that the cartoon bird sequel came out on the same day, and they were playing right next to each other. That could lead to some comical mix-ups when people get up to go to the bathroom.
This is a movie full of greatness, and the more I think and write about it the more I want to go back and see it again. But I also have to admit that the first viewing didn’t hit me like either MERANTAU or THE RAID did. The comparison to THE RAID is easy – for that one you just need your animal brain, for this one you actually gotta follow a bunch of shit. While I felt like I understood 95% of what was going on, I must confess there were times when I was struggling to piece together the plot, and that took me out of it (it’s not like it’s supposed to be a puzzler). A couple times I realized I had really missed something (I didn’t decode the meaning of the hand tattoo, and was thrown off when the mob bosses were referred to as cops). Of course there was nothing in THE RAID that I felt like I was too slow for.
So that’s easy to understand, but why did I prefer MERANTAU? I think it’s the underlying humanity. MERANTAU’s Yuda is a Tony-Jaa-esque naive farm boy who comes to the corrupt city and sees no choice but to do the right thing and get involved when he sees a woman being pushed around by sex traffickers. And there is Fight Brotherhood with Ruhian’s henchman character, and literal brotherhood between the bad guy and his brother (and they hug alot). But THE RAID 2’s Yuda comes into a world of almost nothing but assholes. It’s like a John Woo movie that’s mostly missing the all important ingredients of bonding and loyalty. You don’t get the usual undercover tension of feeling bad about betraying them, because the scumbags Yuda deals with unquestionably deserve to get the shit betrayed out of them. There is one subplot with a good bonding theme but there turns out to be a reason for that, and one villain who seems more honorable than the rest, but Rama doesn’t ever have to look him in the eye as a known traitor.
In the beginning Rama refuses Bunawar’s offer, saying he doesn’t believe in killing people, he wants to do it his way. Then he changes his mind and kills a whole lot of people. If it was there, I never picked up that much of a struggle inside him about not wanting to do it this way. In THE RAID that wouldn’t have been a problem, but this one gives us more time to think.
All that said, the strengths of THE RAID 2 are self-evident, and it is required viewing for fans of martial arts and action movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if none of this that I brought up bothers me after I see it again. If you look at my review of THE RAID you can see I had some hesitation about the all-action approach as compared to MERANTAU’s characterization, but that sure didn’t stick after I watched it again.
Whatever its faults, I’m thankful to see an action movie (a sequel even!) this ambitious and achieving on this level. I guess that’s the nature of this genre we love. Even if there’s an army of muddy, incomprehensible post-action spy movies filling the gang-controlled restaurant of Hollywood distribution, there’s always gonna be one bad motherfucker that’s gonna roll up his sleeves and take them all on at the same time. And even if there’s an assassin waiting outside to finish him off with two kerambits, at least he’s gonna crawl his bleeding ass out to a back alley where we can see him.
P.S. Is anybody ever gonna apologize for adding “REDEMPTION” onto the title of the first one?