I finally got to sit down with The Raid 2 last night and I was totally floored. I loved the first one, which was sort of a John Carpenter meets Bruce Lee extravaganza--lean, mean, and boosted by some of the best martial arts choreography I had ever seen. I was looking for more of that from the sequel and that's what exactly I got, but I also got a whole lot more. This movie had all the action and excitement I was hoping for, somehow upping the ante. There were massive fights, stellar opponents, and a showstopping car chase that has to be seen to be believed. Additionally, there was a storyline that seemed like The Departed by way of Tarantino.
Now, at 150 minutes, it is possible that the movie lingered a bit too long in certain spots. I'm not really willing to say that there was anything extraneous inserted into the mix, because I loved the way the story unfolded and the style in which Gareth Evans presented all the intrigue and all the gory delights along the way. I surely wouldn't want to trim those magnificent fight scenes, and yet I was a bit fatigued at times, so maybe there's such a thing as trying to squeeze too much awesome into a single movie.
Having said that, if your biggest criticism of any movie is that the filmmakers may have inserted too much awesome into the proceedings, I guess that's not so bad after all. Iko Uwais once again nailed it as Rama, proving that he has the skill and the charisma to be the next big martial arts star. He may be light years away from the one and only Bruce Lee's physique and raw ability, but he is 100% badass and he doesn't play when it's time to throw down. My father and I always marveled at the way Bruce would thoroughly dismantle his opposition--he had a mean streak in combat. It was a stark contrast to other martial arts stars like Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, who fought like, well, good guys. When a villain came to blows with the master, he didn't just got knocked out, Bruce pulverized those bastards. More so than anyone to hit the scene since, Uwais shares that mentality, physically dismantling his adversaries in gory fight scenes that are shot and choreographed to perfection.
Yet my favorite aspect of the picture may have been the return of Yayan Ruhian, the first Raid's villain, who was given an arc that made his character seem like a good guy of sorts in this sequel. While his Prakoso and Rama never crossed paths this time out, he still delivered one of the picture's finest confrontations, and he was a joy to watch whenever he was on screen.
I also have to call attention to Julie Estelle (Hammer Girl) and Veri Tru Yulisman (Baseball Man) for their unique roles and combat styles. Their names make what they do self-explanatory, but they really do it with style. They go toe-to-toe with Rama in one of the best fight scenes of all time, and the conclusion to this epic showdown is one of the most glorious and brutal things you'll ever see in an action movie. Seriously, it's a home run.
The plot requires Rama to go undercover to bring down a criminal syndicate, and when I say dude goes undercover, I mean dude goes seriously, seriously undercover. If your cover requires you to pull 2 years in the pen and break every law in the book once you get out, I think you're devoted to the cause and then some. Rama is essentially off the grid as a policeman in The Raid 2, allowing him to do whatever is necessary to take down the bevy of crooked cops and various villains who are vying for power. What really pulls all this together is the time that Evans devotes to the portions of the movie when someone isn't getting their ass kicked as well as the rich character development. There are at least five bosses or underlings of some stature in the mix, to include those in charge and those like Arifin Putra (who has acting chops like Iko has karate chops) as Uco, for whom nothing matters save the bloodthirsty pursuit of power. Evans is a gifted director, proving every bit as innovative and skilled at creating atmosphere and intrigue as the story unfolds as he is at showcasing brutality when the good guys and bad guys (or the bad guys and the other bad guys) square off.
In closing, The Raid was a kickass action movie of the highest order. The sequel delivers the goods on that front, and despite a lengthy running time that may wear you out, it also boasts a riveting storyline. It is enhanced by a number of remarkable performances to go along with all the bone-crunching fight scenes and gruesome demises. The Raid 2 is as gory as any horror movie, as exciting as any good kung-fu flick, and as gripping as any worthwhile crime story. That's a tall order, and even if it does threaten to overstay its welcome, I have to say that this follow-up is a smashing success.