The original Raid was a lot of things; to most (including me) it was a boyhood dream made flesh. The basic plot of Die Hard meets the insane action-to-plot ratio of Hard Boiled, but while those films focused on gunplay, The Raid introduced the mainstream audience to the brutal ballet of Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat, and had its protagonists kick, punch and slice their way through the film at an astonishing pace. The plot was little more than a set up: a group of cops stage a raid on a highly fortified Jakarta highrise, but find themselves trapped inside with several hundred baddies between them and safety, the remaining 90 minutes were spent in a prolonged action sequence. The film was notable for its breath-taking pace, as well as director Gareth Evans’ spectacular fight choreography and imagination. It received criticism because of its boilerplate plot, but was a sleeper hit, so now it has a shiny epic sequel.
The Raid came out of nowhere. There had been rumblings among all the critics that matter that it was the shit, but it was a foreign (i.e. not in the English language) film by a first time director that didn’t get a very wide release. Now the sequel is the hottest movie of the week and everyone has big expectations, but the critical wave is overwhelmingly positive and returning director Gareth Evans has been ambitious. While the first film was fixed in the claustrophobic confines of a single tower block, and was resolutely an action film, the sequel is a sprawling twisting gangster melodrama, albeit with possibly even more people being viciously kicked in the head.
The Raid 2 is almost unique in the visceral quality of its action, every punch and kick has impact and weight, and during the fights it genuinely feels like people are getting badly injured. There are two fights, one in a kitchen towards the end of the film, and one in a muddy prison yard at the start that feel like honest-to-god brawls rather than any kind of balletic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon dance fights. Despite its lethargic two-and-a-half hour runtime the film constantly feels snappy and engaging, even during the almost actionless second act. There are many more ‘signature’ moments than the original film, which place the film much more in the realm of classic Kung Fu movie, even if the premise tries to divorce it from that world; of particular note are the dual claw hammer-wielding deaf woman (almost the only woman of note in the film) and a metal baseball bat-wielding thug who uses world-class out-of-the-park strikes to kill people with baseballs.
The problem is that that Scorsese/Infernal Affairs gangster wraparound story necessarily dominates a lot more of the runtime than the original “tower block full of bad guys” schtick, and while the superbly athletic and talented actors and stuntpeople lend the film spectacular kinetic visuals, their presence is increasingly at odds with the plot. The original film trod the line, with the scraps always looking brawl-y enough as to not look explicitly choreographed, the line is pushed even more with the greater surrounding verisimilitude in the Raid 2. The greater scope lends the film much more variety in the action in terms of location and kills. Getting stabbed, shot, beaten into submission or chucked out of a window was all you could expect in the original in the same grubby surrounds, but here people are run over, burned, blasted, batoned, sliced, sizzled, baseballed, hammered and kicked out of moving vehicles; the action is almost arbitrarily varied, with an extended final dénouement up with the greats of the genre.
Perhaps most disappointingly of all, it never sustains the original's breathless quality, which is a good and bad thing. It’s a proper stakes-raising sequel, not just a cheap re-hash. By making itself bigger and more sprawling it has lost the corset tightness that had me staggering out of the original with knuckles white with inner tension and mainlining adrenaline. The Raid 2 is a great film, and when it hits its stride, no other action film this year can touch it, but it will never be as special as the first Raid film, which came out of nowhere and was the best thing in my teenage life. I was a part of a quite exclusive club, those who saw the Raid on the big screen. I probably won’t introduce the Raid 2 to anyone, because they’ve already been out to see it. And the sequel will never transport me back to that time. It is the best film it could possibly be, and contains a mass brawl, a one-on-one fight and a car chase for the ages. Perhaps if you saw them both together, objectively the sequel is a better piece, but it could never have lived up to the standards I placed on it.
Can't get enough Gareth Evans? (not to be confused with Gareth Edwards, who helms the new Godzilla), try Safe Haven, Evans' contribution to V/H/S/2. It's a doozey.
Written under duress by Steven.