Breaking legs, twisting arms, slashing throats, smashing heads, stabbing bodies, shooting anyone, crashing one car into another, burning face on hot plate, and, above all, kicking and punching hard each other. All of these acts of violence and mayhem are relentlessly served to us in “The Raid 2”, and I must tell you that there are a lot more of no-hold-barred extreme violence to jolt you during its running time of 2.5 hours. The movie is more or less than a broad exhibition site for its gritty, punishing action scenes, and they deserve to be appreciated individually for their enormous skills and prowess inside them, but I only observed them with increasing detachment mainly due to its messy plot riddled with many problems including the lack of characterization and the absence of strong narrative pull. It has the ambition to excite us with a bigger scope, but it becomes loose and unfocused as bulking itself up, and the result is a half-baked crime action drama occasionally punctuated by its well-made action scenes which are its major selling points.
“The Raid 2” starts its story not long after a disastrous SWAT operation which was the center of “The Raid: Redemption”(2011). Rama(Iko Uwais), a rookie SWAT member who managed to survive that hellish carnage initiated by a ruthless gang lord, is ready to expose the big corruption in his system through a crucial evidence he obtained from his estranged brother who happened to be that gang lord’s right hand man, but he soon finds that it is far more difficult than expected. He immediately goes to a cop he can trust, but the cop tells Rama that there are a lot more things to do for getting the justice he wants – and he wants Rama to be his undercover agent for exposing the connections between the local gang organizations and several corrupt high-ranking police officials including Reza(Roy Marten), who was briefly mentioned around the ending of the previous film.
Rama is not willing to be an undercover agent at first, but then he accepts the job later because of his personal reason. His mission is approaching to the son of one of the powerful crime bosses in the city, so he is put into the prison where Uco(Arifin Putra) is being temporarily incarcerated. After a spectacularly barbarous prison fight on muddy field which will definitely make many of you cringe for its sheer savageness drenched with mud and blood, Rama, who disguises himself as a criminal named Yuma, starts to gain Uco’s trust. When he is released from the prison two years later, Uco introduces Rama to his father Bangun(Tio Pakusodewo) and Bangun’s trusted right-hand guy Eka(Oka Antara), and Rama slowly begins to infiltrate into Bangun’ organization as a henchman they can rely on.
The movie keeps introducing the other underworld characters into its increasingly complicated plot. There is a Japanese gang organization led by Goto(Ken’ichi Endô), and then there is also another gang organization led by Bejo(Alex Abbad). Bejo has a number of killers who are a little more distinguished than other characters only because of their methods of killing; one young lady’s specialty is swiftly wielding two hammers at her opponents with no mercy, and her partner, who is as remorseless as she is, uses a bat and a baseball during his usual operations.
Eager to impress his father and ambitious to solidify his position, Uco wants to defeat the Japanese mobs, so he is naturally drawn to Bejo’s secret offer. They will break a long truce between Bangun and Koto for starting a war again, and Bejo promises that he will fully support Uco, though this untrustworthy guy clearly has some other ideas behind his back. As secretly watching on them, Rama sees what will happen sooner or later, but he also realizes that he may not survive the upcoming situation if he is not very careful.
While reprising some of the physical actions presented in his previous film, the director/writer Gareth Evans tries to top himself as making action scenes bigger, louder, faster, and bloodier on his broader canvass. Its fight choreography by Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian(he also plays one of minor characters in the film) is packed with ferocious intensity as expected, and the fight scenes in the movie do not feel choppy at all in spite of rapid camera movement and quick editing. The cinematography by Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono gives the movie a slick, polished look while never losing the gritty aspect of its actions scenes, and there are several action sequences which made me curious about how they made them.
One of them is particularly mentionable because it simultaneously captures two different types of actions happening along the highway through a busy mix of well-planned camera movement and first-rated stunt performances. We have an intense struggle inside one vehicle, and then we also have a car chase action literally following after that vehicle, and this sequence rapidly shuffles between them without any confusion until it reaches to its finish line.
However, when action is not on the screen, the movie is bland and uninteresting as it struggle to roll its insipid crime story. The characterization is one-dimensional to say the least, and the plot frequently loses its pace while dully explaining the situations around its bunch of characters. We are not sure about what is exactly going on as losing our way amid the cardboard characters who simply exist for killing or being killed, and the movie just keeps throwing action and other things into its disorienting story without no particular focus or attention to story and characters. I am not so sure about what Rama’s boss is exactly planning, and I am also scratching my head on the motive behind one deadly action scene with a taxi.
I do not doubt that Iko Uwais is competent as a promising action movie star, and he and other stunt performers deserve praises for making their fight scenes look quite real without getting any serious injury in front of the camera, but his character still feels like a blank page as before. There are a few shots involved with his family members, but these obligatory shots do not add much to his character except informing us that he is a good family guy inside his dirty disguise. As the movie bloats its plot, Rama relatively becomes an insignificant part in the story, and its big climax containing his series of striking fight sequences does not compensate much for that.
Mainly due to thin characterization, the other actors surrounding Uwais do not leave much impression unless they fight or kill. There are many conversation scenes between Rama and the other characters, but I think the most memorable line in the movie is “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” or “Arrrrrrrrgh!” – and I can assure you that these visceral lines are used again and again throughout the film.
I previously said “The Raid: Redemption” will be “the most single-minded and simple-minded action flick of this year”. Although impressed and excited by its single-minded ferocity, I was not very enthusiastic about it mainly due to its lack of substance to support its action scenes, and I was also bothered by its inherent vicious attitude toward its extreme violence.
While technically more improved and polished, “The Raid 2” continues that disturbing trend with more problems to block my entertainment. Its narrative is unnecessarily sprawling and ponderous, and I could not care about its clumsy plot, and I got quickly tired of its long, long parade of violent actions with a very little sense of fun or excitement. I understand well why this film is being regarded as an electrifying action masterpiece by many people, and I will not deny that its physical action scenes are certainly a lot more engaging to watch than that dreary CGI spectacles of Transformers movies. I still don’t think I will watch this movie again, but I may enjoy a documentary showing how they made its actions scenes – now that’s an interesting film I am more eager to watch.