Following up a movie like The Raid was always going to be quite a task – the original brought such a new and vibrant flair to the, relatively, mainstream action movie that I found it hard to picture how it could be followed.
In the simply titled The Raid 2 (it comes with the suffix Berandal in some territories) writer, producer, director Gareth Evans takes the bull by the horns and delivers something that certainly lives up to its predecessor, while at the same time not simply reliving past glories, as many sequels are wont to do.
The plot, which is surprisingly involved, expands the world created in the first into a full on, city-wide, organised crime gang war with three families vying for control. Into this, our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) is thrown, via some not entirely legit seeming undercover police, and over two and half hours all hell breaks loose time and again as intrigues of the gang war escalate.
While the story is more solid than I had expected, it is nothing that hasn’t been done before, with a lot of The Godfather and its ilk in the mix and, at two and a half hours there are points where the pacing of the more exposition based scenes becomes somewhat deliberate, if not actually slow, but that’s not really what the film’s basis is.
Stylistically, its like a living comic book both in terms of characters, action and direction with camera moves and shots that could be doing a Sin City and lifting frames from a page, if this was based on a comic book, and this gives the whole thing a slightly distancing effect which I think is a blessed relief considering the brutality of some of the action on offer.
The Raid 2 sets its stall out early in this regard with one of the best ensemble fight scenes I’ve ever seen as a prison riot descends into brutal bloodbath which sets the wheels in motion for everything to come.
While the choreography is hugely impressive, what makes this (and the other action scenes) really stand out from many others in cinema is how they make it clear exactly what is going on and develop the story, despite the apparent mayhem. Evans has described the action scenes as a kind of violent ballet and I’d have to strongly agree as the story develops as much through the fights as it does through exposition, something a lot of filmmakers could learn from.
As the film goes on, Evans displays an ability to shoot pretty much every type of action scene going from intense one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat to multi-car chases (including a four-on-one fight in a moving car) excellently and, as I commented earlier, the expanded world means we don’t just a repetition of the same action we saw last time, although many of the performers are the same.
In something of a rarity what has happened in expanding the world of The Raid 2 is that it has allowed Evans to create a film that stands up alongside the original, while at the same time being its own entity and sits up there with The Raid as one of the best action movies I’ve seen.