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.|
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.
|YES!!! BLEED. BLEED FOR MY AMUSEMENT. HAHAHAHAHA!!!|
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.|
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...