I didn’t like The Raid 2.
I have my reasons.
And they make sense.
I’m not going to act like I’m not disappointed, that my dissatisfaction isn’t coloured by the fact my expectations were high. THE RAID is my favourite film. It is the finest action movie ever crafted. The sequel was a let-down.
But this admission hardly invalidates my reasons for disliking The Raid 2.
And they still make sense.
Once again, Spoilers. All of the Spoilers.
The Raid 2 Callously Dismisses its Predecessor
Let’s take the opening scene here – Rama’s savvy, capable, recently promoted crime boss bro, Andii, gets kidnapped, black bagged and the business end of a shotty to the face.
I don’t mind that Gareth Evans did this. I mind that he didn’t do us the courtesy of explaining it.
How did up-and-coming mobster Bejo, a man who openly admits he needs more muscle, get his hands on Andii? Especially as The Raid spent its runtime teaching us
A) He’s wicked smart
B) He can hold his own in a fight
C) Has an (admittedly reduced) army of hoodlums at his disposal
D) Operates from a fortress so impenetrable 20 SWAT Operators armed with Assault Rifles and the element of surprise couldn’t bring it down!
Admittedly, Andii entertains the notion of shifting location at the end of The Raid. But the fact this major plot point goes unchallenged doesn’t actually establish Bejo as a threat. Instead it proves Gareth Evans is willing to blatantly undermine his earlier work.
Work which made him popular.
Work which made him the money to make his beloved Berandal.
Work we all admire.
It’s a thoughtless mistake.
Also, SIDENOTE – Bejo employs three novelty assassins. Three! This would have been an ideal time to give any one of them an early introduction. You know, so they can enjoy heightened relevance as the film progresses. It’s not like they were criminally underutilised or anything. Oh wait…
The Raid 2 has a brand new Protagonist. And he’s a complete Douche.
Iko Uwais was a dream find for Gareth Evans. Attractive kid. Hell of a fighter. Gifted choreographer. And a nifty little actor… when given something to do. Sure, THE RAID didn’t call for many soliloquys. But it’s stuffed with subtler, physical performance. Iko excelled in it. And he does here too.
But he’s not the main many anymore. Not really. Not in terms of focus, or arguably screen-time. While Rama is largely absent from the second act, its mobster prince Uco enjoying the limelight. Which is bonkers! He’s about as complicated as a jam sandwich. He bemoans the lack of fearful respect shown him, despite the fact he’s a decided sissy in a world of impossibly tough brawlers. He also resents the lack of authority afforded him by his father Bangun… despite the fact Bangun openly admits Uco IS INDEED being groomed for a leadership position, will be promoted in due time and is already being entrusted with debt collection i.e. the primary job of an organised criminal!
Uco is a walking cliché, hastily glued together from a flat-packed Ikea mobster cut out (and a convenient parallel for the wider 150 bloated minutes of hackneyed crime drama.) So why was I watching this unsympathetic git when the electric wee violence maker I paid to see is sitting on his arse for half the damn thing!
The Raid 2 uses Gore as an Ingredient, not as a Seasoning
It’d be an achievement to natter with someone about THE RAID without the conversation inevitably steering itself towards THAT florescent bulb or THAT door guillotine. But they didn’t linger, THE RAID is far too pacy for that. These instances shock, these instances colour, but these instances are never the content.
The Raid 2 goes off the rails in this regard. Gore has suddenly become the end point, the very objective. Action scenes swell towards a crimson mulch as opposed to narrative progression. For all its acclaim, the prison riot amounts to “look how many ways you can shank a man” while the solitary car chase is a symphony of flesh-meets-steel-and-they-don’t-get-along money shots.
THE RAID proved that on the subject of opened necks and compound fractures, there is an artistry and a subtlety to this even most gratuitous of storytelling devices. The Raid 2 lingers on a skull cored out by a shotgun blast. Seemingly for the craic…
The Raid 2 wastes every one of its Interesting Characters in the name of Excess
So we have a supremely gifted martial assassin who grins a lot and sports a couple of raptor claws.
We also have this dude who brains people with a baseball and politely asks that they toss it back.
Oh, there’s the deaf chick with the hideous facial scarring who likes to spin coins and dual wielding craw hammers.
And who could forget the machete wielding hobo. Who is also filthy rich. And desperately wants to re-connect with his estranged kid. And a close personal friend of Jakarta’s biggest crime boss.
These characters are all ripe for exploration, for development. Any one of them could have been the film’s END BOSS. (The fact this term has just unconsciously started making sense in wider circles delights me.)
But Gareth Evans had his vision. This was his quirky crime epic and he’d been waiting years to make it. So eager was Evans to wow us with his creative brilliance his ability to edit, one which served him so well when crafting THE RAID’s refreshingly lean 100 minutes, just fell straight out of his head.
As a result, they each get two scenes apiece. And then die in a necessarily gory fashion.
Baseball Bat Guy.
Even combined they make but a shadow of the impact MAD DOG left back in 2011.
Less is more, Mr Evans. You yourself taught us this…
The Raid 2 has Novelty Fights. These are different from Engaging Fights.
Toilet Cubical Fight.
Shiv-happy Prison Riot.
Porn Den Brutality.
One handed assassination.
Pakrosso’s snow covered last stand.
Baseball Bat Guy Hits a Home Run. Or eight.
Hammer Girl Subway Car Ultra-Violence.
Rama fights and then burns some guys face off for some reason.
Rama Vs The Assassin 1.
Cars get chased. Bodies get smushed.
Finale warm-up bout in Warehouse.
Avoid getting hit by the hammers and the baseball bat fight.
Rama Vs The Assassin 2: This time it’s a Kitchen!
Credit where it’s due, no two action scenes in the The Raid 2 are alike. Each set piece has a defining characteristic, each throw down a unique hook. Sometimes literally. And I won’t fault the pure choreography here. Having not seen most of the movies in 2014, I can safely say the Raid 2 boasts the very best action of 2014. There can be no lingering doubt - Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian are the best there is at what they do. And what they do IS very nice.
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to lay the blame squarely at Evans’ feet here again.
These set-pieces have novelty coming out the yazoo, but four of them star NO-ONE of consequence and at least two of them sideline Rama’s majesty in favour of something less interesting like mud or driving.
Even the mighty Kitchen Fight is not without reproach.
Like music, like camerawork, like dialogue, like editing, like every other facet of the filmmaking process, action-scenes have a rhythm. The more sophisticated the beats, the more emotive, the more enticing, the more exciting the result.
For all its gore, its blood, its savagery, its counter-punches, whipping kicks, joint-locks, hip-tosses and last minute evades, the Kitchen fight has a novice rhythm.
Rama starts to lose. Rama starts to win.
[Knives are drawn.]
Rama starts to lose. Rama wins.
Honestly, despite the immediate impression that this raptor claw Assassin (real life Silat genius Cecep Arif Rahman) was unconquerable, Rama delivers a clean triple roundhouse to groin, gut and gullet within ninety seconds, knocking The Assassin on his ass. I knew then Rama would win. He was the better martial artist. Plain. Simple. He was going to win.
Yes, yes, I always knew he was going to win ACADEMICALLY. He’s the star of the show, he had people to sort out after, he’s scheduled to return for the sequel etc. But when watching a fight scene, academia should fly out the window! You’re supposed to be so overcome by the power of the sequence that your mind cannot keep up.
When Rama (and his brother, remember Andii?) squared off against MAD DOG, I was sure they would die. How could they possibly survive? Their every tactic failed. Even when they stabbed him in the neck he only got more vicious. MAD DOG was unstoppable. He was relentless. He was better. I was sure Rama would die. And that doesn’t mean the rhythm was off either– they were winning, there were losing, they were working together, they were ripped apart, one went down, the other got up, they stopped for a rest, that didn’t work out so well etc.
Sadly, the Kitchen Fight is actually indicative of the wider issue in The Raid 2 –Ambitious. Technically accomplished. But overlong, and with a focus on flash at the expense of substance.
And finally, for those who have yet to notice, I don’t spell The Raid 2 with capitals. It no longer deserves the honour of capital letters.
Unlike THE RAID.
Or it’s full title THE RAID: AAAARRRRGGGGGGGHHHH!