Monday, April 14, 2014



So let me compose myself and pretend to be an actual critic again for a minute.  I was really looking forward to "The Raid 2: Berandal", the sequel to the 2012 ball-bursting, head-splitting, teeth-shattering chunk of badass that was "The Raid".  If you haven't seen "The Raid" yet, you will forever remain a child - an unfinished creature tragically ignorant of life's greatest pleasure.  And of course, that greatest pleasure is the gleeful sense of being a Roman Emperor, watching the brutality from your special box, as Indonesian gladiators break each other into pieces in symphonies of violence.  Do you cringe?  Do you giggle?  You could burst into spontaneous applause?  It doesn't really matter, because "The Raid" movies are a goddamn show, here to entertain.  Entertain they definitely will, be it gore in your eyes or smiles on your face.  So shove down the popcorn and watch the gore fly.

The plot this time is a direct continuation of the events of the first "Raid".  Where "The Raid" was an extremely simple story:  Indonesian cops breaks into a building, fight armies of thugs, fists fly, and then one dude gets his throat cut open with a fluorescent light bulb, "The Raid 2" takes the lead cop Rama, Iko Uwais, and places him in a hugely complex "Infernal Affairs"/"The Departed"-esque undercover operation filled with rival factions and moral grey zones.  Rama after infiltrating the local crime syndicates, becomes just one minor player within a Shakespearean history play of ambitions, conspiracies, and betrayal.  One thing that has not changed though is the primary rule of "The Raid" universe:  every problem can be solved easily with Indonesia's martial arts, Pencak Silat.  The greater your Pencak Silat, the greater your lifespan.

"The Raid 2" expands "The Raid"'s already incredible visual style and incomparably awesome action beats with a vast gripping human drama.  Even though the tone has gone from mere exploitation excuse plot to crime epic, the exploitation still went along for the ride.  "The Raid" was simply a thrill ride, just a pile of loops, corkscrews, and machetes to the face.  "The Raid 2", is in comparison, a real movie:  expressive, dramatic, and probably more than a little bit bloated.  But now you can have people getting beat down with blunt objects and a serious movie with character arcs and development.  "The Raid 2" therefore is everything at once - a huge feast of a movie.   Probably the best movie of 2014 so far.

Surprisingly for such a sudden change in tone and scope, director and screenwriter Gareth Evans actually manages to logically extend the storyline from his first movie.  The sequel is strong and original enough to have been entirely its own film, without any connections to older material.  One would assume after Rama singlehandedly won World War III in the first movie that he would have simply retired.  Perhaps he can open a Tiger Schulmann's Karate school in New Jersey and force sluggish American children to run around for an hour and get them away from their iPads.  Instead because the corruption of this unnamed Indonesian city* extends so far, Rama's actions in the first movie have made him and his family a target from the various crime syndicates.  Tama, the bad guy from the first film was merely a small pawn within a much larger criminal enterprise, which Rama must now enter in order to create a safe world for his wife and child to live in.  The stakes are larger, the cast is larger, the body counter is larger, and most terrifying of all, the martial artists are all the more skilled.

Oh my fucking God, YEESSSSS.
Rama is sent to prison where he befriends Uco, played by Arifin Putra, an exact dead-ringer for Bruce Campbell** and the prince of the native Indonesian mafia.  This allows Rama to graduate into full undercover gangster and beat up dead-beat pornographers.  The rest of the city is held by the deeply corrupt authorities, the colonial Yakuza syndicate, and an up-and-coming gangster named Bejo (Alex Abbad) with a team of wacky assassin bosses under his employ.  As the film expands into an ensemble piece, Uco's ambition strains against his father, Bangun's (Tio Pakusadewo) moderate and measured rule.  Bejo manipulates the rival powers against each other, Rama falls deeper and deeper into the darkness around him, and the city moves closer and closer towards an explosion of violence and chaos, which will see most of these powerful men killed.

And violent this movie is.  I mean, really MOTHERFUCKING VIOLENT.  Apparently it is simply impossible for a film to get an NC-17 rating through violence alone in the 21st century.  (I suspect if there wasn't a topless girl about to bang a hitchhiker off-camera with a foot-long dildo, "The Raid 2" could have sneaked past with only a PG-13.)  The film opens with an established character from "The Raid 1" getting his head blown off with a shotgun, and continues downward into a hurricane of destruction from there.  A cop gets his face melted on a grill, a lot of people are lopped into pieces with a hammer, people slice each up with hooks, one guy gets his jaw torn in half, the climax of the film just leaves a corpse on the floor with his head blown open like an orange peel.  Every fight scene involves about a dozen Indonesian thugs either beaten to the ground or dead.  Makes one wonder why Indonesia even bothers with a prison system since all the criminals in this city will need years of physical therapy to ever walk again.  "The Raid 2" might be the most violent film I have ever seen.

Thankfully for a movie built entirely around them, the fight scenes are gorgeous.  Gareth Evans proved back in "The Raid 1" that he is master of shooting action, and "The Raid 2" seems built mostly as a monument for his own magnificence.  Several fight scenes are indulgent massacres, featuring dozens of extras brutalizing each other.  Early on there is a staged scene in prison yard in the mud, where a full riot breaks out featuring guards rushing in, prisoners fighting each other, and unfortunate people drowning in a Passchendaele of martial arts.  Its dazzling work, featuring shaky cam that actually is able to keep track of the action.  This isn't shaky cam used to obscure mediocre choreography, but used to add to the tone, every little punch remains in focus, and the shaking camera marks the chaos of the situation.  Then we see long extended shots as six or seven fights take place simultaneously without a cut.  Evans stages a battle in a subway featuring a super assassin lady with two hammers against a squad of mooks.  Why?  Probably just to one-up "Oldboy".  "Look at this, Park Chan-wook, we got your Korean ass beat!"  If "The Raid 2" is about anything is about how Indonesia has the best martial arts around and that Gareth Evans is the muse this nation needs to summon its badass spirit.

Then the actual final fight between Rama and a new superboss played by Cecep Arif Rahman is an extended five minute brawl in a kitchen where the two martial arts masters tear each other into ribbons with hooks.  It is quite a challenge to attempt to beat the final fight of "The Raid 1", featuring Rama and his brother versus Mad Dog.  I cannot say Evans completely surpassed that high water mark of action cinema, but its close.  It is very close.  Ultimately as an action movie, "The Raid 2" is bigger, gorier, and crazier than its predecessor. This is clearly of the highest quality of cinema available.  American films built with billions of dollars, say "Captain America 2", can just hope to reach a tenth of the talent and visuals that "The Raid 2" features.

The shot composition in this movie is beautiful.  Now to cover those shots in BLOOD.
Unfortunately I cannot say every aspect of "The Raid 2" is as perfect as its fight scenes.  Part of the issue is with its leading man, Iko Uwais.  Uwais was not a professional actor when discovered by Gareth Evans for his fight martial film, "Merantau", but he turned out to have decent screen presence as a young innocent warrior battling his way against impossible odds.  That was fine in "The Raid" where the story was basically morally black and white, but in this film, he's required to take a much more difficult role.  And really, the only thing the actor is able to do is have him default into this extremely quiet everyman role.  He even disappears into the background for much of the movie, allowing the more explosive character arc happen to Arifin Putra's Uco.  Uwais remains intense and inspiring, especially when the climax allows him to finally retake the main character role.  This hero really is just a guy who stands around getting bosses around until finally all the betrayals lay out, then he solves everything with his fists (and an awesome car chase).

The story is ever so slightly overly complicated as well.  A final betrayal towards the end of the movie involves some character named "Reza" and it was not until several minutes later that I was able to figure out who the Hell this person was.  Even stranger is the return of Yayan Ruhian, the actor who played Mad Dog, the final boss of "The Raid 1".  He's now playing an entirely new character with a surprising amount of depth and backstory, but its bizarre seeing Mad Dog alive again without explanation initially.  The universe of "The Raid 2" is a vast one full of extraneous characters, mostly to allow Evans and Uwais to come together one more time for "The Raid 3".  So there are a few things set up that never quite pay off, a few characters who never quite make to the final party.  However I'm sure these will be expanded in the bigger and crazier finale.  Not that "The Raid 2" does not stand up strongly as its own movie, the last hour is so insane and brilliant that you may drop dead yourself from the excitement.  The two and a half hour long production is such an experience that you will be emotionally drained, numb in your toes, and have hair growing in new embarrassing places.

So ultimately "The Raid 2" is enough of an action movie for all of 2014.  If you need to see just one movie this year where a man is kicked out of a car and slammed into an open door, most likely to ending up more mangled than a plastic surgery addict's face, then "The Raid 2" will fit the bill.  Its a brilliant, gorgeously-shot, well-acted crime movie combined with one of the greatest action movies ever made.  Maybe its a bit much, a bit mad, but that's really part of the fun.  Let brutality sing, let limbs be shattered, organs be deep fried, arteries be tied up into windsor knots, and bones be put into a blender.  You either learn to love the movie, or it kicks your fucking ass.  Kicks your ass so hard that your buttocks are now concave.  Worship the bloodfest.  Blood for the blood gods!  "The Raid 2" is awesome!

* Wikipedia claims that city is Jakarta, but nowhere in either film do I recall them naming the city.

** Hey, having an Indonesian Bruce Campbell is good news.  The real Bruce Campbell is a little too old to fight Deadites with a shotgun and a chainsaw hand.  But Arifin Putra is in the prime of his life, has a fantastic chin, and is entirely fluent in English.  Get this kid over here, and we can have "Evil Dead 4" in the pot, ready to serve.  Or we're just going to make a sequel to that terrible remake from last year...  Sigh...


  1. Funny you should mention that this feels original. Gareths Evans wrote this plot first, but Hollywood decided that since he was a no name director it was "Too much of a risk" to make. So Evans wrote the first Raid knocked the film price to 1 million and sent it in. Once the first Raid made more then enough money, Evans rewrote some parts in his first script and bang bam boom, you got yourself a Raid 2. And I liked how quiet Uwais was. I felt that his character was taking the situation seriously and didn't need to a catchy one liner to be cool.

  2. Aw man, this movie is out already?! Shoot! Since when and where?!?
    Also Blue, you totally deserve a shirt that says "Damn! I Love Indonesia", just for reviewing these two movies with such exuberant spirit. That's why you're the reviewer I look forward to reading the most.

    What? It's Monday. People deserve a bit of gush.