Let’s get right to the heart of the matter: The Raid 2, the sequel to the 2011 international cult hit The Raid, is the most violent non-horror movie to hit theaters in a long time.
That it’s also one of the best action movies to ever grace a screen makes all the blood and bullets — and fists and hammers and knives and baseball bats — a bit easier to take. It also helps that director/writer Gareth Evans shows off an almost Scorsese-like skill, deepening his 2 1/2-hour story beyond the jaw-dropping acrobatics of the first film to verge on something that channels The Godfather and Shakespeare.
Taking place not long after the events of The Raid, in which Indonesian cop Rama (martial-arts champ Iko Uwais) had to battle his way out of a high-rise building full of thugs, this sequel has our hero going undercover with a mob family to root out the corrupt cops with whom they do business.
But he has walked not just into a gang but a gang war. His patriarch, Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), is finding himself challenged by a crew led by the cold-blooded Bejo (Alex Abbad), as well as Japanese and Chinese gangs with whom there has been an uneasy peace.
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Meanwhile, at home, Bangun’s trigger-happy son Uco (Arifin Putra) wants to take control of things and show all their foes who’s boss once and for all. But Bangun doesn’t think his son is ready for real responsibility, leaving him to stew in a pool of anger and ambition. To make matters worse for Uco, there’s a rival for Bangun’s trust, his assistant Eka (Oka Antara), who’s firmly on Dad’s side.
Despite this dysfunctional family dynamic, there’s lots of room left for Evans and Uwais (who is also the film’s fight choreographer) to show off what they can do with an action scene. And what they do is a marvel. From a muddy prison-yard brawl to a careening car chase that ranks up there with the best ever filmed, Evans takes standard action tropes and cranks them up past 10, going beyond where even Quentin Tarantino, John Woo or any of the Bourne movies have gone.
What’s most amazing is how he films fights in tight spaces, whether it’s a jailhouse bathroom or a speeding car. Unlike other action movies, where things move so quickly it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on, in The Raid 2 you see and feel every punch and blow. It’s like an old-school martial-arts flick in this regard, and makes for a convincing ad for silat, the Indonesian hand-to-hand fighting style practiced in the film.
Certainly, The Raid 2, a glorious head-butt of a movie, is not for the squeamish — the presence of characters with the descriptive names of Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) are hints of this — but for those who prefer some slam in their cinema, it delivers.
Evans has said there will be a third Raid. While it’s tempting to tell him to quit while he’s ahead, it’s going to be a kick to see where he goes from here.
In Indonesian and Japanese with English subtitles
THE RAID 2
* * * *
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Arifin Putra
Rated: R (strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality, strong language)
Running time: 150 min.