I remember walking out of The Raid 2 in cinema feeling sore, as if I had just had my ass handed to me, just like the countless thugs our hero has to go up against in what has to be one of the best action films ever made, and certainly one of the best in the 21st century.
Directed by Whelsh filmmaker Gareth Evans, the film picks up moments after the events of the first but after the first ten minutes or so go by, the film very much becomes it’s own beast. If you feel like simply jumping into this one you can but where’s the fun in that. And when I say the film is a different beast I mean that in both the the storytelling as well as the visual style of the film . The first film, as fun as it is, is more of a balls to the wall, 90mins action film, confined to one setting as Rama (Iko Uwais) and his fellow police officers conduct a raid on a high rise apartment block run by a drug lord, who gets most of his tenants to pick off the officers. The second film feels extremely different, opting for more of a two and a half hour art house crime epic rather than a quick action film. Rama finds himself undercover in one of the two organized crime families in the city and is feeding intel back to base, who are looking for corrupt officers and politicians in the criminal underworld. The two families are on the brink of a war and it doesn’t help that a conniving third party is trying to take over the whole scene.
Off the bat, this film is great to look at. The bleak, dirty warehouses are juxtaposed with beautiful offices and restaurants where the criminal hierarchies conduct their business. There is some excellent framing with the camera work, which is largely done with handheld digital cameras, which gives a sleek modern look to the film, which feels more like an epic crime drama doused in violence and action rather than an action film with a bit of drama. Think Godfather but with the focus on the action and the plot rather than the characters. And that’s okay, the film isn’t trying to be a rousing character study-instead opting to give us a look into corruption first hand.
Now to the important stuff. The action in The Raid 2 is just…bonkers. After leaving the cinema, I felt as if I had been the one on the receiving end. I felt stiff, slightly violated and it was great. We’ve become so accustomed to both violence and mediocre action that we’ve forgotten what great action films can do to us. Raid 2 is extremely violent, more so than its predecessor. It’s full of blood and gore so it’s not for those with a weaker constitution. The camera work and the editing however allow us the audience to actually witness and absorb the action on screen. Quite often, the camera will pass between camera men, allowing for seamless transitions between action. This is best illustrated in the car chase sequence when the camera passes through a car and CGI is used to hide the camera man, who is dressed up as the passenger car seat (see 8:58 in the behind the scenes video below). It’s so refreshing to see action done in camera and only use CGI technology as a last resort to compliment the shot rather than to build up the entire sequence, something that I find lacking in many films today.
The martial arts choreography on display here is on another level all together. It’s much more visceral, less concerned with being flashy than it is about being deadly and quick. The final three action set pieces are phenomenal and the final knife fight that occurs in a kitchen is something that has to be witnessed for yourself. The stark white walls and floors are quickly painted red as our hero and villain go at it blow for blow, brutally trying to kill each other. During that fight for the first time in theater, I recall my heart rate was jacked and my knuckles were white. After two non-stop action scenes before it, the final scene gives you no chance to recover, thrusting you into a wild roller coaster. Which is what this film does so well with it’s many, many actions scenes: it takes you on a ride and that’s something that modern Hollywood films have largely failed to do. If you want to watch an excellent, well made action film, treat yourself.