Gareth Evans' Raid series swallows The Godfather and throws up this bloody brutal beast
After the success of his stunning debut, director Gareth Evans trades in the claustrophobia and efficiency that made The Raid one of the best action movies of all time, in favour of a broader canvas, more convoluted plotting, and an epic design.The tactic largely works. And it also makes sense. After all, the "1 minute of romance, 100 minutes of action" motto of The Raid may have made that movie a tremendous adrenaline-rush of an actioner, but trying to keep the momentum running in a sequel may have been self-defeating.
Indeed, the plot of The Raid 2 - which sees the super-cop protagonist of the first movie thrown undercover into a brutal prison environment, before exploding out onto the streets; forced to confront not one, but three warring crime families - was actually originally intended by Evans to be the first story they shot. Called Berandal - which is still this film's subtitle in some territories - the sheer scope of the piece made it budget-prohibitive, particularly when compared to the single-corridor set which enabled The Raid to be shot so damn inexpensively. Now reworked as an outright sequel, Berandal is a grand expanse of a film which, only in its final forty minutes, crescendos into the same sort of pure ultra-violent action that endured almost throughout The Raid.
For the rest of its epic, but slightly uncomfortably long runtime, Evans bombards audiences not only with bone-crunching body-blows - although those do come fairly frequently - but with a plethora of new characters, many of which even get their own backstory. Whilst you can see The Godfather heritage to the piece, and whilst you have to admire Evans's evident skill at managing comparatively complex plotting, character machinations and twists - which only add to the skills he had already shown as a confident action director - The Raid 2 sometimes borders on being quite a bloated, cumbersome beast, feeling like a far cry from the slick efficiency of its predecessor.
Still, for the most part, the grander, more epic design works. Evans competently constructs a bigger picture to this crime saga, painting on a broader canvas and giving the series the potential to endure considerably better than had this just been an identikit sequel. And, for those who make it to the final reel, he certainly delivers on the action-impact promise of the original. And then some. For many, this will more than make up for the thick plotting that comes first.
One-man army super cop Rama, having survived his own Die Hard / Dredd-esque tower of terror, finds his work to uncover corruption and gang violence largely falling on deaf ears when it comes to his superiors, mainly due to even higher-level corruption within the force orchestrating a cover up. So, with threats coming down on those closest to him, Rama has no choice but to go undercover in prison to cosy up to a crime boss's son and thus infiltrate his crime family in an attempt to expose the corrupt cop at the heart of the police force. Things get complicated pretty swiftly though as Rama finds that the fragile detente between the family that he is needling his way into and a rival faction is now in jeopardy thanks to the arrival of fresh blood - a new face who wants to take Jakarta for himself. And with the mob boss's son already discontent with his own position in the organisation, the fighting may not only come from without, but also within.
Evans goes for broke with The Raid 2's epic crime saga plotting, but doesn't always know when to trim away the fat.
Although, ostensibly, the plotting seems unduly complicated, it's actually no more so than many other crime thrillers to which this sequel aspires - the double-crosses, the assassins and henchmen, the undercover twists, the mob bosses and power plays. Taken purely as an exercise in crime saga plotting, The Raid 2 treads familiar territory, although it's largely welcome territory, particularly for those who didn't necessarily love the simplistic efficiency of the first movie's plot.
Initially adopting a non-linear style, the plot jumps back and forth in time to establish background and give weight to the developments, working well to grant Rama enough backstory to be more than just the valiant supercop he was the first time around. Yet with every introduction of a new player - which Evans often delivers in a very clinical fashion, as if this were a police briefing - Rama's narrative appears to get both more complicated and more diluted. It's easy to see why some might find that, at least for a hefty chunk of this epic tale, Rama appears to be supporting rather than leading this piece, because the story originally had nothing to do with him. Berendal was written before The Raid, and post-converted into working as a sequel, leaving Rama's involvement feeling, occasionally, like it's not quite as integral to the proceedings as the filmmakers would have intended; drowned out by myriad criminal players who all appear to have been afforded a random amount of screen time irrespective of their significance.
Thankfully, the action really does make up for any and all shortcomings that you might find. Evans may well still be finding his footing when it comes to crafting a Godfather-esque crime epic, but when he's capturing intense combat sequences, he really is in his element. Indeed he has, in a very short space of time, established himself as probably one of the greatest action directors on the planet.
The requisite prison yard fight sequence is taken to a whole new level here, a quartet of assassins who all get their own trademark weapon and action sequences to highlight their use of it - Hammer Girl, Baseball Bat Guy and, for want of a better name, Homeless Machete Dude, as well as the scary-as-hell man with two curved daggers known simply as The Assassin. Indeed, many of the individual fight sequences are so exquisitely choreographed, so brazenly brutal, and so viciously violent - with action that simply never lets up - that they could easily make for the highlight in any other action movie. And The Raid 2 has all of them.
But it also has that car chase sequence. The Raid 2 expands into plenty of new action locations beyond just the prison setting - from nightclubs to porn shoots - but the high point has to be when it takes to the streets for what is essentially The Raid 2 does Bourne Supremacy. Evans turns the streets - and a couple of cars and bikes - into the stage for the choreographed martial arts action, expanding what was already a thrilling shooting-based sequence into a hitherto unseen setting for kick-ass antics. It's one of the best action scenes I've seen this year - and this is coming off the back of having seen Captain America 2.
There's no doubt that The Raid 2 contains some of the most accomplished action sequences ever shot.
The action also sees Iko Uwais's Rama return to the fold, after spending a little too long out of the limelight in favour of us following the mob boss's son who he is cosying up to. Whilst the acting is competent throughout - with some of the actors pulling off some more elaborate emotional moments, and others just allowed to play damn colourful characters - the majority of them neither have the screen presence nor the acting talents to really deliver the goods, something which is only more evident when you find yourself missing the earnest but relatively one-note Iko Uwais.
Still, it's all about the sum off all parts, and The Raid 2 marries gangster crime thriller and undercover cop drama with martial-arts-biased action-fest, leaving the end result certainly unique, and thus oftentimes utterly intoxicating. Perhaps Berandal's seemingly extraneous fat will seem more appropriate when we see the film as the middle part of a complete trilogy, and perhaps Evans will continue on this impressively fast learning curve to deliver us a more perfected beast of a finale. Either way, The Raid movies are utterly unmissable. Highly recommended.
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