This review was originally published on February 15, 2014…
When The Raid 2 was announced to play the Sundance Film Festival, the first thing most fans of the original noticed was the running time. 148 minutes. That’s a 47% increase in potential bone-breaking, face-smashing awesomeness. Those who still need to catch up with Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption will find a gloriously insane, pre-Dredd march to the top of a slum building to take out the big boss with the furious pace of a video game. Other than some standard exposition, which revealed just how thin the exercise otherwise was, the action was practically as non-stop as it comes, often finding ways to exceed the impossible expectations it made with each sequence. How can one possibly top it? Well, make it longer, I guess.
Michael Bay once tried that with Bad Boys II, a film which drew bemused moans for its own 147-minute running time and turned out to be of the most vile, stomach-churning films ever. While there are moments and imagery that may certainly cause some wheezing and eye-aversions, The Raid 2 is thankfully a far cry from Bad Boys II. But lets not mistake it for The Godfather Part II either.
The story picks up right after the events of the first film with our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), realizing he’s about to go deeper down the rabbit hole of crime and police corruption that he just punched his way out of. Putting himself undercover in prison (for TWO YEARS!) Rama is assigned to get on the good side of Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), an even bigger crime boss. Once out of jail, Rama is inside again becoming a part of Bangun’s organization while his hothead son is eager to take over the family business.
It does not sound like a lot of plot but the general bullet points loop time and time again as we anxiously await them to get back to the fighting. Speaking of which, Yayan Ruhian returns to the fold, though not as the notorious Mad Dog he played in the first film. This reappearance nearly stops the film cold right in the middle, as a seemingly unconnected subplot that is never referred to again once it gives Ruhian the excuse to be the center of yet another spectacular fight sequence. Borrowing elements we have seen in everything from The Godfather to The Departed, there’s an ambition to Evans wanting to expand upon all elements of his filmmaking, though its clear in the writing where his real skills lie.
Pulling punches certainly doesn’t seem to be one of them. Watching The Raid: Redemption was practically a snuff film if you found its stunts so unbelievable that they couldn’t be achieved without the cost of a few lives. The Raid 2 continues that uneasy wonderment at bodies flying face first into concrete or bending their torsos and skin into positions that scream immediate surgery and tourniquets. You may prefer one action sequence over another in either film, but there is simply not a bad one on display. Two prison melees, a restaurant ambush and the introduction of the aptly-named Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) on a train are all standouts; just as you think you have had enough, Evans continues to astonish.
Adding to his repertoire of fistacuffs, guns and kicking, Evans stages a really well-executed car chase that incorporates many of his standard hits. Then for extra measure finds a way in a kitchen to actually have the fanboys, who were orgasmic over his climactic three-way from the first film, question their loyalty to it as the greatest fight scene ever filmed on any format. There’s no denying the skill in which Evans films action, and his commitment to going for literal overkill is admirable, but he is not going to reach the levels of a Spielberg or Cameron until the filler becomes just as engrossing. Films like the Raid series (and there are plans to make it a trilogy) can easily get a pass strictly for its action delivery system. Even with the extended running time, there is still a major action beat every 15-20 minutes so well-choreographed that everything that came before it is a blur.
A plot so forgotten puts The Raid 2 in the same breath as your more entertaining efforts from Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. As breathless as it can be at times, remember to take a breath after it’s all over to recognize it’s not one of the greatest films of all time. It’s not even as good as the original. But what you remember about it will qualify as a really fun time if you love great action.