“The Raid 2” Movie Review

     Dare I say the "10 Best Martial Arts Films of All Time" feature posted just last week was a bit premature? If you took a look, Writer-Director-Editor Gareth Evans' "The Raid" placed number nine on the list, citing the fact Evans succeeded in staging fight sequences that set the bar for both technique and brutality in a modern Martial Arts film.  I also mentioned the straight forward simplistic video game plot that had a SWAT team on a mission to take down a drug kingpin who resides on the 30th floor of a run down building.  In what could easily be grouped with the small number of sequels that surpassed the original ("Aliens", "The Empire Strikes Back", "Terminator 2", "The Godfather 2"), Evans' new Indonesian language film "The Raid 2" takes everything positive from the first film and brings it to the next level.  Much like John Woo's late 80s and early 90s bullet ballets, "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled", Evans infuses the proceedings with a well executed storyline, dedicating the film's first hour to an elaborate set up for what's to come later.  The assembly of each act reminded me of none other than my all time top film "Aliens" in that  the story and dialogue dominate the first and second act, with all hell breaking loose in the third act.

     The film to film comparisons are endless as Evans is clearly inspired by a number of classic genre films both within the story as well as visually.  Many of the seedy gangster bars, nightclubs, and restaurants would also have made a quality setting for Neo to take out bad guys in "The Matrix".  Several of the characters dress in long trench coats and sport sunglasses indoors with two characters in particular having the mannerisms of Morpheus and Trinity, all the while occupying colorful atmospheric sets that Evans uses as much for the film's brooding tone as he does it's martial arts mayhem.  Literally every scene and every movement by an actor is shot to establish Evan's style.  Close ups of spinning coins seen all the way to their rest and smoke filled meetings in rooms decorated in dark blood reds indicate all involved are in a foul mood, ripe for violence.  There is no wire work within the fight sequences and every technique used is street realistic.  The only suspension of disbelief necessary is the thought of how many brutal shots these guys are able to take before they give up or are killed.

     The hero from the first film, Rama (Iko Uwais), is immediately thrust into another difficult assignment following the events in "The Raid".  An internal unit within the Jakarta Police Force (Indonesia) recruits Rama for an undercover operation that would have him assume a new identity and placed in prison in order to befriend the son of another drug kingpin named Uco (Arifin Putra).  After saving Uco's life during a bloody free for all between prisoners and guards in a mud bogged prison yard, the story shifts ahead two years later where Rama is released and is recruited into Uco's drug operation and organized crime syndicate.  The story explores Uco's lust for power and his will to succeed his father in the family business.  In these scenes, the reach of their business is established through visits to collect from various interests.  Evans may go too far with one such scene when Uco arrives at an underground porn set that reveals the disgusting lengths human beings will go to make a buck, but these scenes prove important since they develop all of the characters involved for more important events later.

     Because of the story structure of "The Raid", the SWAT team would encounter adversaries as they moved upward in the building, yet you really weren't sure when the really high quality villain would make an appearance.  As the film moved along, you had to figure their greatest challenge would present itself, but there was no build up to those all important characters because you were seeing them for the first time.  The sequel solves that issue by introducing all of the players early on, giving them impressive fight sequences within other areas of the story.  This results in much greater anticipation when the stakes are higher later in the film and they line up as obstacles for Rama to contend with.  For an American audience; however, some may see this and other developments as a downside since it means more reading of subtitles than the previous film.

     The final hour of "The Raid 2" is where the argument can be made that you are looking at perhaps the finest action film ever made.  Evans stages an exhilarating car chase through the streets of Jakarta with razor sharp skill, upping the ante on anything I've ever seen with a thrilling combination of car crashes, brutal gun play, and stunt work.  Evans then tops that with a "Game of Death" style murderer's row in which Rama goes after those responsible for a violent gang war and must defeat each of the three main body guards of the rival drug kingpin.  As I mentioned, we meet each of them during earlier skirmishes and each has their own preference in weapons and fighting style.  Save to say, you likely won't look at a hammer or a baseball bat in the same way ever again.   

     There should be no surprise when, like the aforementioned John Woo, Evans is imported to Hollywood to test his craft within the studio system.  His work on "The Raid 2" is that of a Martial Arts film virtuoso, with each scene expertly executed and choreographed to inject a realism fighting scenes rarely convey in other films of this genre.  Sure his script is often clunky and his visual style are clearly influenced by an number of classic crime films, but the extraordinary action set pieces consistently upstage each other with one tour de force street fight followed by something even more impressive.  Just when you've caught your breath and didn't think it was possible to have a continual rush of exhilaration, Evans hits you again even harder.  Evans' film begins by following the tropes of a solid crime noir, but then propels you into the Martial Arts thrill ride of your life.  GRADE: B+