I feel battered, bruised and brilliant after seeing Gareth Evans’ masterpiece The Raid 2 (2014)
Picking up story-wise a mere two hours after the end of the first film, “The Raid 2” immediately plunges our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) into a desperate undercover mission at the behest of Bunawar, chief of Jakarta Police’s anti-corruption force. Deep undercover, Rama is thrown into prison with the mission to infiltrate the inner circle of Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of a prominent politician and mob boss who runs the city. Once released from prison, Rama begins working for Uco’s father Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) all the while trying to build up enough evidence to bring the whole corrupt network down. Meanwhile, Uco’s ambition has made him impatient with his father’s way of doing business and seeking power for himself, he allies himself with an up and coming gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) and the pair set about igniting a violent turf war between Bangun and his Japanese rival Goto which will see them annihilate each other, leaving Eco and Bejo to inherit the city.
Clocking in at two and a half hours, “The Raid 2” is a heady cocktail of Shakespearian power politics, crime drama, scintillating martial arts and a bloody, violent action extravaganza. That it manages to balance all of these aspects in almost perfect harmony is credit to writer/ director Gareth Evans’ mastery of his subject and his medium.
The action set-pieces and fight scenes are audacious, ground-breaking and choreographed with such skill and inventiveness (based around the Indonesian Pencak Silat fighting style) that they almost take on a darkly balletic quality. Once or twice they do start to feel like they’ve gone on a little too long, but there is so much expertise, control and physical genius on display that you can excuse the occasional indulgence. Make no mistake, though, these aren’t artful dances of stylish strikes, blocking and acrobatics – the blows are devastatingly forceful, viciously swift and uncompromisingly brutal and bloody. In any other film, the levels of violence and mayhem would seem gratuitous and excessive but for the world into which Rama is plunged, they feel viscerally authentic. Ironically, the only time I was inclined to turn away from the screen was when Rama seems about to stitch up a deep cut on his arm, but then I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to needles and surgery.
A directorial savant of the action sequence, the true power of Evan’s script – and the reason it can justify its lengthy running time – is the depth which he gives the characters. All the key players are fully realised, fleshed out individuals who feel vital, real and alive – until they abruptly aren’t. Utilising the breathing room afforded by the time, Evans ensures that instead of waiting for the next fight scene to arrive, you are given plenty of meaty drama and gorgeous cinematography to keep you occupied. Dialogue (almost entirely subtitled) is used efficiently, effectively and sparingly, allowing the action and visuals to propel the plot along. This devotion to creating a richly textured world on screen pays huge dividends with the likes of Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian), Bangun’s most loyal and dedicated assassin: a small role in terms of screen time, but a fully rounded character with a complex and melancholy history relayed in a few pivotal scenes and a powerful influence over events in the film. He may not be integral to Rama’s story but the inclusion of his subplot enhances the film as a whole.
The performances are strong throughout, the entire cast shining in their respective roles, especially Uwais as Rama, Tio Pakusodewo as the noble and statesmanlike Bangun and Arifin Putra as Uco (even if he often looks disconcertingly and distractingly like a young Bruce Campbell). None, however, manage to outshine Alex Abbad’s deliciously camp turn as the ambitious, villainous Bejo. With his creaky leather gloves, stagey limp and overly elaborate walking cane, he is just a white Persian cat away from being the best Bond villain we’ve never had. And like all good Bond villains, he’s only as good as his henchmen, which in this case is a very good thing because if Bond ever ends up facing Baseball Batman (Very Tri Yulisman), Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) or The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman), he’d better make sure his health insurance has full coverage.
The only minor gripe I have is the narrative crowbarring which takes place within the first twenty minutes in order to force the script into working as a sequel to “The Raid” rather than being the standalone crime epic “Berendal” that Gareth Evans intended. But when the result is a film of this quality, with action that eclipses any of its rivals set against the backdrop of a mob drama that’s up there with “The Godfather”, it’s an easy one to forgive.
A modern classic of its genre which resets the benchmark for action cinema, “The Raid 2” makes “Kill Bill” look like CBeebies and wildly exceeds the highest expectations you may have from “The Raid”. Bloody, brutal, ballistic – this is essential cinema, if you have the stomach for it.