I grew up watching action movies. Some of my earliest childhood movie memories involve me watching VHS copies of late-90’s Jackie Chan movies. Wide-eyed and impressionable, 8-to-10-year old me absorbed the insane plots, cheesy one-liners, and kinetic fight choreography that made Jackie Chan such an icon in martial arts film. I also probably tried to re-enact several of the scenes, but thankfully time has allowed me to forget such things.
So when a friend introduced me to the first Raid movie, The Raid: Redemption, I ate it up whole. It was as if I was presented with a grimmer, darker Chan universe. Redemption was the quintessential action flick: it had a plot just dense enough to carry the momentum of the movie forward, enough jaw-dropping choreography to impress even the most hardened martial-arts fanatics, and it even presented a distinctly unique vision of a city drowning in crime and corruption. Director Gareth Evans left viewers breathless with Rama (played by the ridiculously talented Iko Uwais) and his fellow officers’ endeavor to clean out a crime lord’s personal crime tenement and apprehend him. Ending on notes of betrayal, forgiveness, and hope, Redemption kicked and punched its way into my adrenaline-addicted heart the way Jackie Chan did in my younger years.
What The Raid 2: Berandal did was kick, punch, stab, throw, pummel, burn, and shoot my heart into glorious submission. It gave me more of what I loved about The Raid: Redemption, and then went even further by giving me a narrative I could chew on.
Sequels, particularly in the action movie industry, are always tricky pull off, simply because one can fall into the trap of focusing on only giving audiences more of what they loved. It can be hard to see a franchise fall so far from where it started (I’m looking at you, Rush Hour). The trick is not to give audiences merely more, but to expand. Expand the world, expand the characters, and expand the conflicts (think Toy Story and Half-Life).
Evans definitely expands his scope in The Raid 2, pulling the camera back, as it were, to encompass the entire city of Jakarta and the complex web of powerful gang leaders and corrupt policemen. No longer restricted to the 30-story building of the first movie, this movie becomes an entirely different raid. A slow-burning, undercover operation takes Rama (with an alias of “Yuda”) into the depths of the criminal underworld as he tries to find tangible evidence of police corruption from the inside.
We get to see a wonderfully-realized city rife with corruption. Established enterprises have police forces under their thumbs, budding crime syndicates get put in their place if rules aren’t followed, and even politics can’t stay away from the influence of underhanded tactics. Enforcing the law seems helpless when removing one thug or one corrupt officer only causes them to be replaced. While being somewhat exaggerated, there also remains hints of unsettling realism in the underworld of Jakarta, making even the impossible setting in Redemption seem plausible when taken in the context of The Raid 2. This world ends up coming alive, giving its characters and plot heightened credibility.
But of course, the main attraction in The Raid 2 remains the frenetic action scenes. As we’ve come to expect, the action sequences in this movie are top-notch. Each fight becomes a bloody ballet of sorts, where twirls and pivots become replaced with hammers and viscera. Evans, having already sat on this choreography since Redemption (the action sequences for this movie were planned well before the original Raid), executes fights beautifully, keeping viewers – at least, this viewer – at the edge of their seats.
Talent not only shows in Uwais’ abilities to fight, but also in Evans’ ability to weave intricate details into his fights (and other scenes). Rather than spoon-feed us plot developments in between action scenes, Evans sprinkles it in fights, in symbols, in dialog, and in silence. Despite being billed as an all-out action movie, The Raid 2 stands to serve as a remarkable drama as well.
The ambition in this film does become apparent, however, in its runtime. The 150-minute long movie may prove intimidating for some, especially for movie-goers who may not be so keen on martial arts films. If you are not a fan of action movies in general, you should probably stay away from The Raid 2, seeing as its bread and butter remains the fight scenes. If you are a fan, there is still a bit of an endurance trial in watching this simply due to the length of the movie; but if you find yourself caught in the film, you’ll likely hardly notice.
I certainly found myself caught, and hooked, in The Raid 2. Pardon my slight bias, but I felt the nostalgia of past Jackie Chan films accent the adrenaline of this one, and both 8-to-10 year old me and present me watched and absorbed every minute of The Raid 2 – though I did cover his eyes at the bloodier parts.
The Raid 2 is available to purchase online through services like Amazon, iTunes, and most retail stores (though I would check online before you make the journey).