The second film in the franchise is an action spectacle
Gareth Evans’s The Raid was a 100 minute exercise in fists, knees, knives and bullets hitting bodies until they stopped moving. It was basically perfect in its purity of purpose. The Raid 2 is not perfect.
Where the first was taut, devoting any spare moment to swinging around henchman by their legs, the second feels as if it might falter under some of its slack – there’s almost an extra hour for all that leg swinging to support. Where The Raid left little time for the viewer to feel anything but exhilarated, The Raid 2 can be exhausting.
There’s a clear divide in the film between ‘actors’, who acquit themselves well, considering they exist in a world where 90% of all problems are solved via flying kicks, and ‘fighters’ who seem to have had most of their emotive abilities beaten out of them through years of the aforementioned flying kicks. So, the fact that a ‘fighter’ has to ground the film is somewhat problematic.
Or it would be, if wasn’t one of the greatest action spectacles ever put to film.
This time Evans actually has a story – a sprawling crime saga, in fact. Our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), goes undercover into a criminal gang to root out dirty cops, all the while the city’s crime bosses are making their own moves. It’s like The Departed, but with baseball bat assassins. Knowledge of the first film helps only in that it makes every moment that isn’t spent treating asian men like durable, fleshy piñatas tense because we know the nature of the carnage around the corner.
Fairly soon into the runtime you’ll think you’ve seen one of the best fight scenes possible. And then it tops it. And again. And again. Until there is nothing in the world but these tiny super-humans slicing enough tendons to serve an all-you-can-eat Vietnamese noodle restaurant. Alongside the pulsating score, the brain becomes so overwhelmed it gives up and just dumps all the dopamine and adrenaline it has left.
Uwais is sometimes awkward on camera, but only because his natural resting state is clearly ‘breaking the bones of anyone between him and the film’s credits’. Not since Buddha has anyone more emphatically found their place in the world. He’s so fast he might be hiding an extra pair of arms and legs, like Dr Octopus as played by Bruce Lee. The only reason Einstein said nothing could travel faster than light was because he never got to see Uwais’ fists move.
The standout of the first Raid, Yayan Ruhian, returns as a new character, and manages to stand out once more. The only ‘fighter’ to elicit any pathos, his scenes could work as an affecting, beautifully shot, short film on their own. One that just happens to feature more stabbings than Caesar’s final senate appearance. This is, safely, the stabbiest franchise ever made.
The fights look like the final thoughts of a Tekken grandmaster as he’s tasered into a coma.. If told, I would believe every stuntman in Indonesia died in the making of this film. And their deaths would not have been in vain. They would have died giving us something greater. Specifically, a scene where someone has an elaborate close-quarters fight in the back seat of a car participating in the best chase since The French Connection. It’s like an eight-year-old made a deal with the action gods to see the most amazing thing he could think of, then, in an ironic twist, he’s 10 years too young to buy a ticket.
To call it fight choreography is like calling Michelangelo a roof painter: technically correct but underselling the Sistine Chapel. More fists and feet fly through the air than a tornado at the amputee ward would produce. To capture the brutal ballet surrounding them the camera operator dances through the chaos, like a goddamn re-animated Fred Astaire waltzing through a war zone. Evans’ choices result in a film so kinetic it reminds one that film’s main asset over other mediums is motion – and he’s given us poetry.
With these two films the Evans-Uwais machine has set the bar for modern martial arts, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but them, and their army of expendable Indonesians, meeting it. After witnessing the mayhem they deliver together it makes sense that the last time Wales and Indonesia were this close, the dinosaurs went extinct.
The Raid 2: Berendal is now showing at ODEON Wimbledon, Wimbledon Piazza
Follow us @SW_Londoner