Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Heavy Action: The Raid 2

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Holy shit.

When I reviewed Gareth Evans' new classic The Raid: Redemption in 2012, I disagreed with it being called one of the best action movies of all time. It is a great movie and has some of the best action scenes of all time, but lacks some of the elements that make the greats truly THE GREATS.

As if to prove my point, Gareth Evans made The Raid 2.

It's early -- I'm still less than 48 hours out from my first viewing -- but I suspect The Raid 2 is one of the all-time greats. Any issue I might have had with the first movie (which, again, is a movie I love) has been answered to and improved upon in a movie that's bigger, richer and, yes, better. It's fucking incredible.

Picking up just moments after The Raid ends, part 2 (known as The Raid 2: Berandal in the marketing but not in the opening titles) finds surviving Rama (Iko Uwais) being recruited to go undercover and expose further corruption in the police department. To do so, he must infiltrate the Bangun crime family by getting close to Uco (Arifin Putra) the boss's son and heir to the criminal empire. The catch is that Uco is in prison.

Two years after going in, Rama is finally released and goes to work for Bangun just as things are beginning to fall apart. Ten years of peace with the Goto crime family from Japan is beginning to crumble as Bejo (Alex Abbad), a gangster who's rising to power independently, starts mucking things up and Bangun's son Uco grows tired of waiting to seize power. Oh, and there are a couple of colorful assassins on hand, including Baseball Bat (Very Tri Yulisman) and Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), who kill lots and lots of people with their weapons of choice.
Where The Raid is focused and repetitive, The Raid 2 is sprawling and epic. Mixing the themes of Michael Mann, the visuals of David Lynch and the action of getting your ass kicked in the face, The Raid 2 is much more of a crime epic than it is a straight combat movie. The original movie felt quick and dirty; its photography was washed out and gritty, its cast all dressed alike. Evans takes a much more majestic, formalistic approach with the sequel, creating an aesthetic that's all interiors with bold red backgrounds and slow push-ins -- like what Only God Forgives could have been if it was exciting or alive.

But where The Raid 2 truly succeeds is in opening up the scope. By pacing it differently and spreading out the action set pieces, the film is able to breathe in a way the original couldn't. While the nonstop, exhausting approach of the first movie's fight scenes will possibly never be topped, the action sequences in The Raid 2 are even better because each one has a different build up, a different set of stakes. Each one takes place in a new environment. While The Raid had to make do with endless fighting in a single apartment building location (which wasn't a liability as much as its own kind of asset), the sequel has the entire city of Jakarta as its backdrop. That means we get action scenes set in the street, action scenes set in restaurants, action scenes set in prison yards. We get a kickass car chase. And because Gareth Evans is so goddamned determined to create action scenes we've NEVER seen before, he stages entire fight scenes in the back seats of cars and in bathroom stalls. The movie is able to go small even when it's going big.
It also has more memorable, fleshed-out characters -- something I always thought was lacking from the first movie. Better still is that every character is given time to want something. Even Yayan Ruhian, who appears here despite his character Mad Dog being killed off in the last movie (he's playing a totally different character here with no explanation, but it's so good to see him again that it doesn't matter), gets his own character arc. He's a homeless assassin who only shows up in a couple of scenes, but we get to know who he is and what he wants better here than Mad Dog in the entirety of The Raid. What some may call a pointless digression I consider filling out the world of the film.

Maybe it's not fair to keep comparing The Raid 2 to The Raid. Gareth Evans leaves me little choice. His action movies are so far beyond what most genre filmmakers are doing that they can only be stacked up against one another. Case in point: just a week ago I was busy being impressed by (most of) the action scenes in Captain America: The Winter Solider, which were often innovative and shot in longer, wider takes (not the first scene; never the first scene). Seeing The Raid 2, I now realize I was grading Winter Solider on a curve. Sure, many of the action sequences were good for a Hollywood blockbuster. The Raid 2 is working on such another level that it's almost unfair to consider them both within the same genre. Everything else seems kind of cute or quaint in comparison to the inventive brutality Edward and fight choreographer Uwais coordinate.
Yes, The Raid 2 has what might be my favorite fight scenes in any movie ever. Each one feels different and shot in a way you can't even wrap your head around -- it's the rare action film that's as thrilling for its fight scenes as for the way Gareth Evans shoots them. How do I pick a favorite? Would it be the insane, mud-soaked fight in the prison yard? Hammer Girl's attack on a subway? The climactic battle, in which Rama has to take on escalating series of henchmen, each more deadly than the last? I can't choose -- not when they're all so fucking good. The Raid 2 is further evidence that it is almost impossible to receive an NC-17 rating for violence (though supposedly the director did have to make a couple of cuts). The movie is unrelenting in the damage it does to the human body. Evans, who directed the great "Safe Haven" segment in last year's horror anthology V/H/S/2 (many of the actors from that show up here), understands the value of a great gore gag and stages several perfectly. I was laughing, cringing and cheering all at the same time.

A word about Iko Uwais. Though Rama remains an underdeveloped character, I like the way that Uwais' performance and Evans' screenplay emphasize his vulnerability. He is constantly scrapping his way towards survival, whether it's punching his way out of an apartment building or desperately clinging to his cover and lying his way out of being discovered. Because the film's scope is so big and so many characters need to be serviced, Rama actually disappears for sections of the movie. His throughline is never lost, though; he remains our entry point into this world of larger-than-life criminals and insane bloodshed. Like Jackie Chan, Uwais is able to play the underdog despite demonstrating over and over that there is no fight he can't win.

Much has been made of the movie's length. At two and a half hours, it is long. So is nearly every summer blockbuster that gets released these days. I would much rather sit through a movie as beautiful and thrilling as The Raid 2 than Man of Steel or Transformers or The Dark Knight Rises, which is even longer than this one. Everyone's mileage may vary. #HeavyAction fans wouldn't dream of complaining about too much of a good thing.

One's preference for The Raid or The Raid 2 will ultimately come down to what we want from an action movie. If we want incredible fight choreography and as much of it as possible, The Raid is our masterpiece. I prefer The Raid 2. There is less action but more payoff. Fewer fights but more money shots. It is a better movie -- one about how systems and people can rot from the inside out and how we can sell our souls without even realizing it. It is the rare superior sequel, one of only a few truly great Action Epics and one of my favorite movies of the year.

Yes, The Raid 2. I will marry you.

21 comments:

  1. This seems like one of the few movies so far this year about which I think to myself "I must see this, and I must see this in a theater." I never even saw the first movie, but I don't think that matters. This one sounds, from all the buzz I've read about it, like it has real potential to be truly amazing. I will rush out to this one as soon as I can.

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  2. Great HA, PB! Do you think Gareth Evans is the best action director as of now?

    Did you think Uco looked like Brandon Lee? It's all I could think about when I saw him.

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    1. I had the same thought about Uco, to the point of distraction because for his first few scenes I was trying to figure out why he looked so familiar and then it hit me (very hard, probably with its elbows) that he looked familiar because he looks so much like Brandon Lee.

      I agree with everything Patrick said. I went in wondering if the epic length meant Evans was overreaching his grasp, but my fears were totally unfounded. It was ambitious and exciting, and I'm thrilled to know there's a team out there making action movies this good. While The Raid may have more replay value (that movie is pretty much endlessly rewatchable), Raid 2 is pound-for-pound the better movie, I think. I went in hoping it could be as good as the first, I don't think I was even considering that it could surpass it. I saw it 3 days ago and I'm still grinning ear-to-ear just thinking back on what a terrific surprise it was. I already can't wait to see what Evans does next, no matter the genre.

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    2. I'll third the Brandon Lee sentiment. They look a lot alike.

      I can see why a lot of people would prefer the first movie, because they really do provide different experiences. This one is just more kind of movie.

      Can there be any question that Gareth Evans in the best action filmmaker working right now? Who else even comes close?

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    3. It depends. I think Evans is the best with hand-to-hand/martial arts. It's not close there. You could make an arguement for shootouts or car chases. E.G. I think Tarantino or the Wachowski's might be up there in those latter two subcategories. On the whole, it's Evans I think.

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  3. Great review Patrick - haven't seen anything but positive reviews for this already but I've been waiting for your take - I think I can safely forget about any chance of disappointment now.

    I'm going tomorrow night (!!! - I think the last movie I was this amped for was Fast and Furious 6) and I watched the original last night in preparation - I still love it but now on my 4th viewing, having fully soaked up what IS there, I started noticing a few of the things that weren't - sounds like Evans addresses those (minor) shortcomings perfectly.

    The violence in The Raid (and presumably the sequel) is just so devastating and gory, I wonder if we almost need to define a new subgenre for this kind of movie - it has more horror elements than most martial-arts/action movies (the ones I'm familiar with anyway).

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  4. Oh man after reading this I could not be more excited for Raid 2! I need to revisit Raid 1 as I had a couple things working against me on the first viewing (the hype was ultra-high, and I had already seen Dredd 3D) so I was a little disappointed. Could Raid 2 dethrone my top 3 #Heavyaction faves?

    1. Hard Boiled
    2. The Road Warrior
    3. Ong-Bak 1

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    1. It may be tough to dethrone those. The Raid 2 is probably closest in spirit to Hard Boiled, but I won't say it's a "better" movie. We're lucky to have both.

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  5. Thanks Patrick. Now I'll be dreaming of seeing this film while I'm work all day today.

    I saw a deleted scene from this film, a gunfight scene on a staircase, that was better filmed and directed than most action movies have as their giant set piece.

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    1. I just watched the scene, and you're right -- if it was in any other movie, we would be talking about that scene, and yet it's still not good enough to be included in The Raid 2. It does give a sense of the way the movie makes violent horrifying, though. Yikes.

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  6. Thanks for the review Patrick. It articulated pretty much all of my thoughts about the movie. It goes out of theaters around here Thursday, so I will have to make sure I get back in before then. Too often, sequels just stick to what worked in the first. Like Patrick said, the Raid 2 took what worked and expanded it. It was one of the few movies that left me speechless when I walked out. It was pretty much everything I want out of an action/crime movie. I hope we get a third one.

    I saw it at a small local theater Friday night. It has the distinction of being the first movie I've gone to see by myself. My friends all bailed because of subtitles. I pity people who will never get to experience The Raid 2 because it is in another language.

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  7. Still havent caught this one yet. Im not all about as much action as possible, if there is less and more payoff like you say then i may really like this one as much as the first but in a different way.
    http://wildcinemamoviereviews.blogspot.co.uk

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  8. I'm waiting for home video to see this one. The expectations are set too high for me to see in a less controlled environment.

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  9. I just saw The Raid 2 & I still haven’t recovered from its awesomeness. It’s a superior overall movie. The only argument I can think of versus the original is which fight scene was more awesome: Mad Dog vs the brothers in The Raid or Rama vs the Knives Guy in the kitchen in Raid 2. Besides being ambitious and innovative, Evans knows how to mix the humor with the action. The way the kitchen staff reacts to Rama & the Knives Guy in their big staredown, how the guns were being reloaded during the car chase, and when Rama gave Baseball Bat a taste of his own weapon were freakin hilarious.

    It’s also amazing how Yayan Ruhian made his assassin such a sympathetic character. For the “some who call it a pointless digression”, did they watch the same movie I did? Without spoiling it, his character is needed to help end the truce between the crime families.

    It’s such a shame that I saw it in a nearly empty theater (a whopping 3 people). I can only imagine the type of experience I could’ve had with a jam-packed vocal crowd. With the low box office of Sabotage & now The Raid 2, the old school action movie is dying a slow death at the theaters. This is just sad.

    As for CA: The Winter Solider, “not the first scene, never the first scene”, Patrick are you only talking about when Cap was taking out the henchman on the tanker because I thought Cap’s fight with The UFC’s Georges St-Pierre (Batroc the Leaper) was well shot & choreographed. They knew how to use St-Pierre in that role. But, yeah, Raid 2’s action is in another world compared to The Winter Soldier.

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    1. If you listen to the /Filmcast's discussion of the film, they were not fans of Yayan Ruhian's subplot. I liked it, not just because it introduced another interesting character but because it advanced the plot and ties into the themes of the movie. But the world is a rainbow I guess.

      Yes, I'm really just talking about those first few minutes on the tanker, which is shot all close and cut too fast -- it's Greengrass style. The scene got better as it went on, and I liked the stuff with him and Batroc.

      It's hard to go back to other action movies for the time being. When I finished watching The Wire, it made every other TV show I tried to watch feel JV. Same goes for other action movies right now. So glad you dug it.

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    2. I just saw The Raid 2 and couldn't agree more with your comments and Patrick's review - I fucking LOVED it. Probably because it loved me - I mean, it found spots in my movie-vagina I didn't even know I had. I haven't felt an afterglow like this since You're Next.

      I guess there's an argument to be made for Ruhian's subplot being somewhat superfluous, but why would anyone complain about it? That guy is fucking awesome and to make him a more sympathetic character (as far as homeless assassins go) this time around was brilliant - I would've thought that face could only play a total monster.

      The only thing that bummed me out a little was the low turnout - including me and a friend there were 8 people in the theatre - boo-urns.

      Anyway yeah, going to be very tough to watch any other action movies for a while - I've got a Bruce Lee Collection on order that I'm not even going to touch for a few months lest it look like complete child's play.

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  10. Remember how Robert Rodiguez used to do action movies for pennies ("El Mariachi," "Desperado," the early "Spy Kids" movies, etc.) that looked like they had eight-digit budgets? "The Raid 2" has moments where you could swear it's a Hollywood action flick employing the best stuntmen in the biz, a resurrected Vic Armstrong directing the 2nd unit and the 2nd coming of Bruce Lee in Iko Uwais... but no, it's just Gareth Evans, Uwais and a small army of scrappy Indonesia stuntmen emulating the golden era of Hong Kong action cinemas for pennies. These have got to be the most insane stunts, fight and fits of action bliss we'll see in 2014 because, frankly, something better would be too much for my fragile little mind to handle. And it says something about the way Evans shoots/edits the action and Iko choreographs the fights that, despite the henchman of the main bad guy being a charmless cipher (especially compared to Mad Dog), his super long final one-on-one duel with Rama makes the one in the first "Raid" feel like a schoolyard fight. And though no great thespian Uwais more than holds his own and is a likable chap. I wouldn't be surprised if Hollywood calls on Evans and Uwais to come to the States and, on the strength of what they did in "Raid 2," are asked to make a $10 million Jason Statham movie look like it cost $50 million. :-)

    Patrick's review is the most positive one I've read about "The Raid 2" so far, but I have to disagree with him and side with almost everyone else complaining (rightly) that this movie is TOO... FUCKING... LONG! It's nice to have ambition and scope when doing a sequel, but for someone that loved the intensity and quick pace of "The Raid: Redemption" the amount of dead space, meandering backstory (I don't care about Rama's wife and child... at all... not one iota!) and totally one-dimensional villains (talkative bosses and Tarantino-inspired cartoony henchmen straight out of a "Kill Bill" movie universe that has no business whatsoever crashing into this one) that spend minutes talking about what they're going to do, followed by the movie showing them doing exactly what they had just said they were going to do... AAAARGHHH! The epic scope of what Evans is going for in "The Raid 2" (part "Godfather," part "Internal Affairs," part every movie about an underground cop infiltrating a criminal organization and losing a piece of his/her humanity in the process) would be welcomed if he we had something unique, original or even remotely interesting to say, do or show in-between the action pieces, instead of the umpteenth million walk down a well-worn storytelling path. And when he takes a serious misstep (like a scene set in the snow for no other reason than to show someone bleed to death cool on-camera) "The Raid 2" is, frankly, an embarrassment.

    In the end I'd say you have to see "The Raid 2" if you even remotely like action movies, because when cars are racing, hammers and bats are flying and legs are kicking this is as good as it gets. Just be warned there's at least 90 minutes out of 145 running time that are inane, repetitive, dull, and pedantic retreads of every epic crime movie of the past couple of decades. Gareth Evans clearly thinks he's made the second coming of "Heat," but instead he just made a sequel to "The Raid: Redemption" that falls short of the original.

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  11. I want to thank Patrick for his glowing review for the raid 2. I read and thought I have to see this movie in a theater right now. So I went and my god! What an amazing experience! Every time baseball bat boy and hammer girl came on screen I giggled like a school girl, which embarrassed my fiancé to no end but luckily we were the only ones in the theater and we got our own private screening. I'm amazed at the action sequences and how hard it must have been to plan them all out. I'm very grateful to have a movie that just tries to up the ante in every way possible and not only was my mind blown with every set piece but the movie also had a good story that I got sucked into. Every character had their own little moment to shine and it made the movie feel like a complete piece instead of just awesome action. I was exhausted at the end but in a great way. The only sad thing is I don't know how any action movie can compare to this because this director has just set the bar incredibly high. Thanks again Patrick!

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    1. Yes! Glad you and so many others have been convinced to rush out and see the movie. It deserves to be seen on the big screen. It will be hard to watch any other action movie for the time being; the best way to combat it is to just keep seeing The Raid 2 over and over.

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    2. Yea I may be going to see it again this weekend cuz I can't stop thinking about it haha

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  12. Just got out of the theater and, yes, HOLY SHIT!

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