(2014)5Jason BuchananThe first image we see in The Raid 2 is that of an open field. Slowly, our eyes are drawn to a shallow grave in the middle of a lonely dirt road. It seems a fitting opening scene for a sequel that expands the scope of its lean and mean predecessor in ways that most fans could never have anticipated, but in which there's still plenty of death for everyone.
As deliciously complex as The Raid was exquisitely simple, Gareth Evans' sweeping follow-up is irrefutable proof that if he's not the best action filmmaker of the early 21st century, he's worthy of fighting for the number-one spot. Loyalties are tested and betrayals abound in this masterfully structured crime drama that's brimming with colorful characters. But make no mistake, every time the action explodes, you'll have to run to the back of the theater to retrieve your butt. Meanwhile, poor Rama's wife and son just can't seem to get an even break.
As the film opens, we learn that Rama (Iko Uwais) has captured the attention of some pretty powerful people due to his heroics in a crime-infested tenement building in the first movie. His family is now in danger, and the only way he can save them is by going undercover and exposing the corruption that plagues the police force. His first stop is prison, where he assumes the name Yuda and becomes an indispensible ally to Uco (Arifin Putra), the volatile son of notorious crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Later, when Rama is released, he not only becomes Uco's right-hand man but a trusted foot soldier in Bangun's formidable underworld army. Yet trouble is brewing: Rising crime lord Bejo (Alex Abbad) is eager to make a move that will establish him as the region's next big player, and Uco is growing frustrated by his father's reluctance to give him the responsibility that will allow him to rise to power.
With a labyrinthine plot that links directly back to the first film, and an assortment of shady characters who each have distinctive traits all their own, it would be easy to go on for pages exploring the many intricacies of Evans' meticulously detailed screenplay; but the point of the story is to become immersed in a world where the honor of the old gangsters is being eclipsed by the ambition of their young counterparts, and taken out of context, those details lose a bit of their vividness. For the sake of brevity, let's just say that there are numerous betrayals in The Raid 2, and that Evans' ability to maintain the tension as it all pans out is second only to his ability to craft a mean fight scene.
Of course, we got more than a glimpse of that latter talent in the previous installment, but here it's Evans' willingness to challenge himself on both fronts that yields drama worthy of The Godfather (an obvious influence) and action reminiscent of John Woo in his glory days. So while the action isn't as nonstop as it was in the first film, it's equally brutal and packs more of a punch given the dramatic context. Likewise, Evans never forgets the impact of style: With seemingly impossible camera angles and shots that find beauty in the simplicity of a spinning coin, The Raid 2 is pulsing with cinematic vitality in a way that makes other action flicks look flat by comparison. In short, Evans' passion for his craft comes through in each and every frame, a factor that can even make a horrifically violent movie like this one easy to fall in love with.
Then there's Iko Uwais. If there's any justice in the film world, Uwais will soon be one of the biggest stars in action cinema. Likeable in a way that can rouse an audience to their feet, and lightning fast when the moment calls for it, Uwais makes his character's plight believable while dazzling us with moves that push the limits of human dexterity. And he's challenged by a number of lethal adversaries, each one of them capable of inflicting their own unique brand of damage. From the karambit-wielding Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman) to the lethal Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) and his mysterious sister Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), there's no shortage of inventive foes here. Plus, fans of the first film's ferocious Mad Dog will be happy to see actor Yayan Ruhian return in an altogether different role that, while unusually brief, still manages to make an impact.
Thanks to The Raid, we already knew that Evans was capable of delivering visceral thrills. Now, much like this sequel, the scope has been expanded. And so have the standards of what to expect when we walk into an action film.
Gareth Evans returns to the director's chair along with his former leading man Iko Uwais for The Raid 2, which follows officer Rama (Uwais) as he is tasked with bringing down a nefarious and powerful criminal by going undercover and befriending the gangster's son, who is currently behind bars. Later, Rama's quest leads him straight to the corrupt politicians and vicious crime lords who have taken over his city. The Raid 2 screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.