Director: Gareth Evans; Screenwriter: Gareth Evans; Starring: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Yayan Ruhian, Donny Alamsya, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Alex Abbad, Tio Pakusodewo; Running time: 150 minutes; Certification: 18
When you told people back in 2011 that it was a Welsh guy behind this new Indonesian martial arts flick that’s garnering attention left, right and centre, most of them (understandably) wouldn’t believe you. But indeed director Gareth Evans is a Welshman who did indeed make an Indonesian martial arts flick which was indeed one of the best action films in cinema’s long history. Taking notes from its protagonist, The Raid absolutely smacked audiences in the face with its unique blend of brutal martial arts and astute choreography with a Westernised sense of bravado. We just weren’t used to such an experience, to such exhilarating, lightening-paced, ruthless action that didn’t rely on explosions or cities crumbling to the ground. Every sequence took place in the closed confines of a tenement building, with only the impact of fists to provide that shock and awe.
Fast-forward a few years and we’ve arrived at the sequel, which picks up mere hours after the last film left off and expands the singular setting into a labyrinth-like plot with more characters and more blood. The first blatant difference between the two films is the running time, and at 150 minutes, The Raid 2 is certainly too long. The crux of the film remains the action – it’s the main selling point that will draw audiences into theatres – but this time around we’re forced to be patient and earn the privilege through heavily-dialogued exposition and story expansion.
That’s not in itself a problem, and usually I’m one to enjoy action movies more, superhero or otherwise, when there’s a good deal of quality dialogue and character development to invest in and ultimately reap the rewards from, but in this instance it just doesn’t entirely hang together. While much of it is perfectly gripping, it too often stifles the pace and tries to say just a bit too much while not actually saying that much at all. The whole thing plays out a bit like an Eastern revenge thriller, hearkening to films like I Saw The Devil and Oldboy, but the plot more masquerades as intricate and compelling when actually it’s rather generic turf war/mob boss stuff, and the dialogue is perhaps too explanatory (it’s possible that something could be lost in the subtitle translation, but that’s unlikely).
On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, the expansion of the story and setting lends itself to a much richer tapestry of set-pieces. Rather than being lashed to a single environment, we’re treated to a whole variety of different settings which each yield their own potential for stunning choreography. Just like the first film, the action sequences are handled deftly yet ferociously, only somehow vamped up and beyond what we previously experienced. From kitchens and subway trains to warehouses and car chases, it’s the most explosive, blistering, adrenalin-fuelled mayhem. The kind of action where your whole body seizes up, where every smack and crack cuts right through you.
The time and effort Evans has put into the film is clearly not lost. The action sequences are the most obvious example of his dedication, but there’s also something to be said for just how great the film looks when it’s standing still. Cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono have done a fantastic job of composing each frame to spark and crackle – even the stationary shots in a murky bathroom or muddy prison yard. Beyond that, there’s a real sense of autuerism going on behind the scenes. Evans knows exactly what he wants to do, and while the film is too long, no shot looks unnecessary.
For action junkies, there really is nothing better. Certainly the plot is less interesting that it would like to think and it lacks the incisive explosiveness of the first film, but there is some really good stuff in there – and even if there wasn’t, the action sequences would more than make up for it. Evans cements himself as a master of visual potency while dipping his toes in the realms of story and character. While the latter doesn’t always hold together, it still makes for thrilling, exhilarating, jaw-dropping entertainment.