With the debut of The Raid: Redemption in 2011, we knew that there had to be a sequel, either spiritually or in reality. The action scenes, some of which were called “best action I’ve ever seen” by some people, needed to be duplicated or even topped. Its director, Gareth Evans, needed to show us more pencak silat, the Indonesian martial art that was primarily featured in The Raid. We were entertained for 100 minutes with little more than solidly shot, edited, and choreographed action scenes.
Where it had an issue was in its complete lack of story and very little reason to care about everything that was happening. It was hard to really feel for these characters because there was nothing to them. The plot was also about as simple as they come. But its action scenes were so good, so brutal, that this basically became a moot point. Now, with the sequel, an additional 50 minutes have been added to the running time in order to bring more of a story and better character development. This is overkill — 20 or 30 minutes would have been enough — but Raid 2 is a better movie than its predecessor thanks to this addition.
Taking place directly after the first film — it’s an hour or two later — and involves Rama (Iko Uwais) being approached to go undercover in an attempt to uncover corruption in the police force. To do so, he enters prison in order to befriend Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). The road we’re going down is “generic undercover cop movie.” Rama sees a whole lot of things he probably shouldn’t, Uco continually struggles with not getting the respect from his father he thinks he deserves, and tensions escalate between Bangun’s crew and the Japanese, who have a 10-year truce that you can guarantee will be broken by film’s end. The only thing we’re missing is Rama never seems to be enjoying what he does, and there’s no question about whether or not he’ll “turn” to the dark side. And that’s used so frequently in these types of movies that it’s a bonus to not have to wonder about that this time out.
The Raid 2 is chock-full of the action scenes that made its predecessor a hit. This is a martial arts film in which the heroes fight a great number of bad guys who almost always approach them one at a time, because one-on-one fights are far more visually dynamic, and the “mob mentality,” while practical from the villains’ perspective, is far less exciting. Hand-to-hand combat scenes are the primary form of action — there’s one shootout and one car chase, too — and some of them are among the best I have ever seen. The same was true of the first film, but this one takes it up another level.
It’s difficult to describe just how good these scenes are without simply showing you one, saying “look at how beautiful this is,” and leaving it at that. The choreography is phenomenal, the cinematography lets you see everything clearly, and the cuts come in places that add, not detract, from the scenes. It never feels as if the filmmakers are trying to hide a lack of talent; they’re on full display and the result is something truly great.
And, thanks to the much-expanded story element, we actually get to know the characters in The Raid 2, which makes the action scenes mean more to us. We get context, reason, and real characters in the sequel, even if there is some inefficiency to the storytelling. A film like this one does need to be 150 minutes in length. There are a few lengthy stretches between action scenes, and a couple of the plot points wind up feeling repetitive by the time we’ve wrapped everything up. Cut it down by 20 or 30 minutes and The Raid 2 has a better balance and is a more well-paced film.
The type of people who will dislike The Raid 2 are also the people who didn’t like the first one. You people are dead to me (semi-kidding). It could be the brutal violence that gets to you and makes you dislike it, and that’s fair. Every film isn’t for every person, and if you dislike violence, then you won’t enjoy a film like this one. The violence feels eerily real, especially when it comes to bones being snapped or limbs being impaled with objects.
Iko Uwais is the lead and apart from a face of determination and an impeccable skill set when it comes to the martial arts, he doesn’t have to do a lot of acting. This wasn’t a problem last time around, but this time it’s more apparent because he’s given the opportunity to do so and basically gives us one face for the film’s entirety. The standout actor winds up being Arifin Putra, whose internal struggles and external conflicts allow him for several great scenes. And, in the one English-speaking scene in the film, he showed command of the language and spoke without a troublesome accent. He could become a Hollywood star if he desires.
The Raid 2 is a more complete film than its predecessor, being an immensely enjoyable action movie that also brings with it a full story and a great cast of interesting, well-developed characters. It’s a little too long at 150 minutes — it could use a haircut — but I’ll take too much of something over not enough almost any day of the week. If you liked The Raid: Redemption, you’ll really enjoy this one.