I usually rely on my notepad as a refresher while writing a review, but the notes I took for “The Raid 2” read like the gushings of an 11-year-old's diary entry; “awesome” and “ridiculous” make appearances, and there are repeated uses of the F-bomb as adjectives. But there are two words among the half-page of chicken-scratch drivel that are useful to describe this strange, enchanting Indonesian action film: epic and experience.
We'll start with epic, which describes a deep and complex story soaked through with themes of family, loyalty and pride, as well as the moral complexities that come from straddling whatever line exists between right and wrong. That last one forms the storyline for the heroic Rama (Iko Uwais), who was last seen in “The Raid: Redemption” fighting his way through hundreds of well-armed opponents in a drug lord's tenement.
Things were simpler back then – that divide between good and evil deep and thick – but circumstances change from the get-go when honest cop Bunawar (Cok Simbara) sends Uwais undercover to infiltrate a major crime family. The objective is to find a way into the good graces of Uco (Bruce Campbell look alike contest winner Arifin Putra) – mob boss Bangun's (Tio Pakusadewo) only son and heir to his syndicate.
Once in the family's inner circle, Uwais assists Putra and mob consigliore Eka (Oka Antara) as the criminal organization conducts its usual business (money shakedowns, beatings, etc.) and maintains peace with the gang belonging to formal rival Goto (Kenichi Endo). But Putra isn't satisfied with the status quo and wants to take over his father's kingdom, which leads him to team up with the mysterious and power-hungry Bejo (Alex Abbad).
That's when everyone goes to the mattresses and all hell breaks loose.
I hopped over a few details because “Raid 2's” machinations are more complicated than the average action flick, or even its predecessor. Then again, “Raid: Redemption” is more of a B movie in which the plot is a device that guides the audience into effective and well-choreographed fight sequences – in other words a pretty standard action film.
“Raid 2” distinguishes itself from its papa from the very first scene – one rather reminiscent of an infamous moment in “Casino” – that ups both the stakes and the brutality from “Raid: Redemption.” It’s not like the first “Raid” film is kid friendly – the fight scenes are real bone breakers – but “Raid 2” is something else entirely; a brutal, vicious film containing innumerable shots that cause a person to bite his or her knuckle to avoid actively squirming or squealing in shock.
Though stomach-shifting in nature, those action sequences are brilliantly staged, and each one contains its own little quirks to reduce redundancy. Some are a little more comical and reminiscent of old Jackie Chan films, while others maintain a devastating gravitas the renders viewers bewitched. A prison-yard melee shot in rain and mud fits that second description; it's a remarkable battle between a collection of men with little loyalty and, really, nothing to lose. The jaw-dropping battle also pushes the plot forward and reflects the early changes in Uwais' moral boundaries, which turns what could be a standalone fight into an important and organic part of the film.
I'm an unabashed fan of films that at least shoot for grandiosity – I'm one of an apparently small collection of people who appreciate messy films like “Prometheus” and “Southland Tales” – because it takes guts to aim for epic. But any film that even gets within spitting distance of that status is at the very least memorable and deserves a few viewings to figure it out. (“Southland Tales” is a great example for this; the film has enough flashes of excellence and all-around insanity to make it unforgettable.)
While those two films are off target, “Raid 2” writer/director Gareth Evans has rather good aim and creates movie that’s really more of an experience; its operatic intentions, viciousness and magnetizing choreography whip the audience to and fro for more than two and a half hours. I was worn down to a nub and borderline speechless when I left the screening, frazzled in my efforts to unpack what I had just witnessed, but I walked out with loads of respect for what I bore witness to.
I'm still a tad mystified (enjoyably so) despite having some time to decompress and think about “Raid 2” a little more, but I can say the film is a piece of raw brilliance. It's something that is rough around the edges and difficult to witness, yet the amount of skill and talent that went into making this wonderful film really needs to be seen to believe.
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