The sequel to that curious cinematic success “The Raid” was going to be big, no matter what. The original movie, often referred to by its title’s odd second half—”Redemption”—came out of the third world to become the first Indonesian movie I can remember playing commercially at our twelveplex.
When you add to that the fact that the movie’s big (six foot, eight inch) writer and director was a Welshman, and one just out of college, the story about the movie became memorable. And then, astonishingly, the movie lived up to its hype. “The Raid” was serious action movie fun.
Its concept, that our heroes aimed to attack a garrison of criminals who had taken over a ten-story apartment building, allowed moviemaker Gareth Huw Evans to limit his costs. But it also made him preserve what the classic age Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to as “The Unities” of storytelling. Everything in the 2011 film took place over a short stretch at a single place.
This one building scheme has been used a couple of times since by Hollywood movies obviously influenced by “The Raid”—the Karl Urban Judge Dredd movie being one example.
Now, three years later, we get “The Raid 2.” Writer, director, and editor Evans has returned to Jakarta and to his lead character, the rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), to his inexpensive sets (many of which seem to be the same long room, cheaply redecorated) and his squads of kicking and chopping street fighters.
But the story is huge this time. It can’t be confined by one building. Imagine Tarantino working with fight choreography from Jackie Chan on a film version of Richard II set in contemporary but utterly mysterious urban Indonesia and you’ll have an idea of what “The Raid 2” is. Then, add a split point of view—the story is about Rama, but he isn’t the film’s tragically ambitious character.
This movie begins where the last left off. Rama is quickly debriefed by internal affairs cops interested in catching the corrupt police officials who play along with the city’s organized crime bosses. Our hero agrees to go undercover to help, and this means he will spend time in a primitive prison in order to get known by the son of the top Indonesian crime boss.
Sonny is attacked by most of the prisoners in a rain-soaked prison courtyard, and Rama comes to his assistance in one of the film’s twenty fight sequences and one of its three or four best and most memorable ones. The sequences that have one man fighting off a series of attackers can be exciting—and can include notable characters like deaf-mute hammer girl and her baseball bat-wielding male associate. But they are not as imaginative and visually remarkable as are the setting-reliant gang on two or three scenes.
The really great one of these takes place later in this big—two and a half hours without previews—movie. A slick serpent of a gangster has convinced Sonny to stir up ill feeling between the native Mafia and the Japanese who sell illegal goods and run prostitutes in other neighborhoods. Rama is grabbed by four of Slick’s minions who surround the cop inside a small car.
Meanwhile his wounded confederate, Eka, is catching up to them in another car. But he is pursued by a machine-gunner on a motorcycle and is squeezed by black sedans on either side as he speeds down the Interstate. Rama, still in the car hurrying to get away from Eka, begins fighting the guys who have him prisoner. We see some of this from above—as if there were no roof on the car.
Evans has some other great ways to use his camera to surprise us and to build suspense, as in the nightclub scene when the loveable long-haired hit man, who like Rama is fighting crime to benefit his off-spring, is attacked by thugs who appear as quickly and silently as the bar’s dancers and drinkers disappeared.
If you can’t stand cartoonish gore, stay away from “The Raid 2.” If you don’t like karate scenes or subtitles or can’t go 150 minutes without comedy, stay home.
But if you want to see an imaginative film, something with the scope of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” see this one. “2” is satisfying enough that you won’t leave the theater wondering what big Gareth Evans is going to do next. Whatever it is, we’ll be wanting to see it.