After punching, kicking and generally scrapping his way out of a Jakarta tower block, Rama (Iko Uwais) finds himself embroiled in an underground crime ring, in director Gareth Evans follow up to 2011’s breakout smash. He ramps up both the action and the scope of his story yet while the fight scenes move at near double speed, everything else moves at a snails pace.
The film picks up mere hours after the first with Rama being convinced to go undercover to expose corruption in the police department (the same police department behind the set-up in the first film) by ingratiating himself to the son of a crime boss. After serving 4 years in prison Rama is finally able to move up the ranks in this underground crime syndicate, by methods too convoluted to explain here, and so begins a twisty turny plot with many many different avenues to explore. And boy, does the film explore them all. At great length.
The first film came out of nowhere and was a blast of fresh air in the otherwise stale world of mainstream action cinema. The Raid was an unashamed unabashed 18 rated action classic; 100 minutes of just enough plot to support the bone crunching wince inducing fight scenes. It was short and sweet and didn’t outstay its welcome. The Raid 2 is a sprawling crime epic in the vein of The Godfather or Infernal Affairs, and most of its two and a half hour runtime is dedicated to the delicately interwoven tale of intrigue, deception, corruption and mostly a power struggle between rival gangs and the shaky truce that stops violence from erupting. This being the sequel to one of the most violent films in recent years means this truce doesn’t last too long.
And therein lies the problem; the reason everyone loved The Raid was the violence. If we’re being honest, that’s why it was so well received. So naturally for the sequel we want more. And while we do get it (more on this later) we have to sit through interminably long scenes filled with the most generic, yet somehow confusing, story imaginable yet one that is played as high art. At times the complicated narrative has you struggling to remember who is fighting who and for what reason. The gear changes between high brow gangster opera and Friday night post pub no brainer actioner are incredibly jarring. It seems odd to criticise a film for having ambition and trying to be, y’know, a film, as opposed to a glorified YouTube showreel, but Evans, also the writer on the film, doesn’t quite have a handle on the script writing as much as he does on the action. Speaking of…
Whether it’s taking on dozens of men one at a time in a toilet cubicle, a scrap in the backseat of a car, a mud caked prison yard brawl or a corridor based skirmish with hammer and baseball bat wielding psychos the violence is as brutal and as wince and nervous laugh inducingly awesome. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cross your legs. Again, the ultra violence at times doesn’t sit with the more serious tone of the film but it’s what you came for and it doesn’t disappoint.
The film wants to have its cake and punch it. In the end, there’s too much cake and not enough punching.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell