“He’s here. He’s coming up.”
When I left the theater in 2011, having just watched The Raid: Redemption, I distinctly remember reaching for the exit door and noticing my hand was shaking. I was hopped up on adrenaline, victim of a unique condition I like to call “Silatosis,” which, according to my imagination, is “the near-euphoric state, brought on by certain hormone secretions in response to 100 minutes or so of bad-ass Indonesian dudes wailing on each other with abrasive techno pounding in the background.”
Three years later, it’s time for a flare-up.
Literally minutes after the conclusion of The Raid: Redemption, plucky cop and martial arts demigod Rama (Iko Uwais, Merantau) is faced with a life-altering decision: the opportunity to do serious damage to the web of corruption and violence that is plaguing his city by going deep undercover or standing on the sideline and maybe catching a bullet one day. With his family’s safety top of mind, he agrees to go under, and gets himself embedded into one of the two rival gangs that control Jakarta. Unfortunately, just as he makes progress in building his case and gathering evidence, all hell breaks loose when a third player enters the picture and sparks a full-on gang war.
That’s pretty much all there is to the story. There aren’t any beats that will surprise you. The two hour-plus runtime certainly feels “crime epic” in girth, but the core story that writer/director/editor Gareth Evans is telling isn’t terribly complex, even though he takes his sweet time telling it. In fact, there was a point during the film, when I turned to my friend and asked “What’s taking so long?” How was that possible, the sequel to one of the greatest and most kinetic action movies ever made…dragging?!
That is the first Pro-Tip: The Raid 2 is not The Raid. While the crime story is fairly straightforward, Evans has expanded this world a great deal, breaking out of the claustrophobia of the tenement warzone of the first film and layering on characters and side-stories and underworld mythology. So know that you’re in for more of a full-bodied experience versus a concentrated dose of Red Bull.
Yet when it was all over and I was leaving that theater, once again I was still shaking like a leaf. Evans and company has done it again. They did so in a completely different manner, but the result was the same: I was utterly jacked up from what I had just seen.
Whatever you might think of the story — and I was so-so on it — the action set-pieces that are draped over it are second-to-none. The first movie showed me stuff I had never seen before; this one slathers on so much eye-popping spectacle it’s impossible to process it all in one viewing. While the narrative may not earn Academy Award distinction, it is more than good enough to imbue stakes and sentimentality into the characters and situations, ensuring that the violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum and has depth behind it.
Which leads me to my second Pro-Tip: be patient when it comes to Iko Uwais. The man is, in my estimation, the most electrifying martial arts star since the heyday of Tony Jaa, but he’s kept in reserve for the bulk of the film. Evans gives him some stuff to do, for sure, not the least of which is pounding fools in a foot of mud during a riotous prison fight sequence. However, the guy doesn’t get fully unleashed until the final thirty minutes or so and, friends, it is worth waiting for. There’s build-up and then there is pay-off and for my Rupiahs, few movies have paid off in such a relentless, satisfying, explosive way than The Raid 2. The homestretch in this film is essentially wall-to-wall mayhem, kicking off with an ingenious car chase and culminating in a series of boss fights that I knew were coming yet still managed to drop a Daisy Cutter on my brainpan.
The execution of these action moments are masterful and largely done with practical effects (e.g., the blood spurts come from condoms filled with fake blood with strings attached, so knife strikes lead to impressive real-life splatter). But it’s the fight choreography that truly astounds. In his commentary track, Evans speaks to this, detailing how the process is so lengthy and painstakingly mapped. Whatever the grind was, it was worth it: The Raid 2 has some of the very best melees ever captured and the final showdown outdoes the epic two-on-one capper from the first film. That alone should tell you everything you need to know.
In Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais, we have a two-man team that has revolutionized the action genre. Their three films, starting with the underrated Merantau, though the all-out assault on the sense that was The Raid: Redemption and now, to this, a sprawling gangland saga peppered with the most inventive, exciting on-screen action you will see, display a portfolio that, frankly, puts anything Hollywood has done in the fighting realm to absolute shame. All of this from a Welsh documentarian and a phone company deliveryman. Not too bad.
The Raid 2 is amazing, but a few things keep it from achieving true immortality: 1) the mob boss’s son, Uco (Arifin Putra), around whom the human drama primarily revolves, is essentially a piss-ant and a psychopath, making any empathy difficult; 2) while it’s cool (and a little weird) to see Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhian back, his storyline could have been either tightened considerably or cut; and, 3) while not necessarily a criticism, you should know this going in: The Raid 2 is shockingly violent.
Even better news: Sony bounces back from a hugely disappointing Blu-ray treatment of The Raid with an absolutely pristine release this go-round. The 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is top-notch, razor sharp in clarity and bursting with detail. A far cry from the grungy, dark corridors of The Raid, the production design here is vibrant, varied and striking and the picture quality belts it all out with flair. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track matches the video well, delivering bone-crunching surround effects and a robust treatment of Joseph Trapanese’s fantastic score. For extras, you get director’s commentary, a making-of documentary, a lengthy live event Q&A with Evans, Uwais and Trapanese and three Blu exclusives: a bullet-happy deleted scene and two action-centric featurettes, focusing on location shooting and the choreography.
It takes its time, but don’t fear: The Raid 2 will leave you torqued up in a big way.