I fear I may be starting this marathon a little too strong with this one. 2012’s The Raid was one of the most refreshing action movies I had seen in a long time. It largely eschewed plot and character development (though both certainly existed don’t get me wrong) in order to deliver a near full run time of brutal and insanely well-choreographed fights. It was an exhilarating watch that I have revisited several times since. I was more than ready for the sequel and while it’s certainly a different beast than the original film, The Raid 2 does not disappoint.
Also I’m aware that the full title is apparently The Raid 2: Berandal however I refuse to accept that subtitle exists in the same way I don’t accept that the first movie is actually supposed to be called The Raid: Redemption.
The Raid 2: Absolutely No Sub-Title, begins shortly after the events of the first film. Original protagonist Rama returns and here he is recruited to go undercover with the gangs of Jakarta in order to take down both the gangs and the corrupt cops that are on their payroll. He gets himself locked up in jail (by beating the shit out of a renowned politician’s son, a fight we don’t actually get to see) where he meets Uco, the son of one of the crime lords. From there he becomes a member on the gang and finds himself getting deeper and deeper in the shit. It may not be the most original story overall, but it’s told in a unique way and is brimming with interesting characters.
The biggest difference between this and the first movie is that while the original got it’s bare bones plot out of the way almost immediately in order to get straight into the action, the sequel takes its times getting to the action and as you may have already guessed has a much heavier focus on story. The length should tell you everything you need to know – 150 minutes in contrast to the lean 101 minutes of the first. It runs the risk of feeling bloated or slow but at no point did it start to feel like a slog. It’s actually the fastest 2 and a half hours I’ve experienced in quite some time.
As I said, what helps is that a fairly rudimentary story is full of characters that are incredibly entertaining to watch. Troubled hero Rama is given a lot more to do here and makes for a great hero. Uco is a great character, a smug and entitled prick who you can’t help but still occasionally feel bad for. You got a homeless guy with a machete who hardly says a word and beats the shit out of about 20 people in his introductory scene. Hell you’re about 90 minutes deep when the movie suddenly brings out two new assassins – a guy who murders people with a baseball bat and baseball and a deaf woman (his sister I think) who kills people with two hammers. Her first scene on a subway train could be my favourite scene in a movie full of favourite scenes. The movie never stops introducing new little bits of insanity. While I will admit there were a few story beats I couldn’t keep up with, it’s a well told tale that is full of tense moments that counter balance the frantic action.
With the story presented on a much larger scale naturally the action follows suit and The Raid 2 contains some of the best action sequences….god maybe ever now that I think about it. At the very least it has a car chase that I would count amongst the very best of its kind. The fights presented here are elaborate, ridiculously well put together and best of all, clearly shot. Action movies in recent years have seemed to feel it’s less and less important to actually give you a clear and steady view of just what in the hell you’re looking at. Choppy editing and quick cuts make it impossible to tell what’s going on and it’s ruined a good number of action movies. I mean you have all these people doing amazing fighting and stunts, why the fuck don’t you want us to actually see any of it happening?! The Raid 2 does not suffer from that problem, though it does still employ a shaky cam technique that can sometimes skew things more than necessary. If the camera had stayed a little more still everything would have been perfect. However, for the most part the staging is terrific, providing many long takes that never break from the action and showcase the capabilities of its actors.
These action sequences also never settle for the half assed approach. If someone gets kicked, they aren’t just going to fall to the ground. No more often than not they will then smash backwards over a railing and then crash down onto some boxes. If someone gets punched in the face once they’re down, 6 or 7 more face punches will immediately follow. If someone is shot point blank in the face, it will be with a submachine gun and the shooter will empty an entire clip before they’re done firing. Each action set piece seems determined to outdo the previous one and every time you think what you just saw is as good as it gets, the movie immediately proves you wrong and ups the ante. It runs the risk of becoming exhausting but each sequence feels unique so you’re always watching something different.
The Raid 2 is going to be damn near impossible to beat in this marathon I’m embarking on and I can’t see it not going down as the best action movie of 2014. If you have even the slightest appreciation for action, don’t let the length (or god forbid the sub-titles) scare you away from this series. Check them out immediately!