Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Directed by: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
In a world that’s over-populated with substandard sequels, you’d be forgiven for approaching The Raid 2 with trepidation. Director Gareth Evans’ low-in-budget, high-in-thrills original broke new ground in contemporary cinema, proving that it was indeed possible to create a film that could be driven by action and excitement, while remaining stylish and intelligent. Admirably, Evans is not content with simply trying to lazily rehash what he’s done before in his sequel. With The Raid 2, the Indonesian-based Brit aims to strike an entirely different beat; fleshing out the world he has already immersed us in, while maintaining the same rhythm that made the original such a pulsating thrill-ride.
Straight from the start it’s clear to see that The Raid 2 is an entirely different beast to its predecessor. Gone are the claustrophobic confines of that tower block in Jakarta, here our establishing shot is a grizzly murder being committed within a vast expanse of wasteland. It’s a bold and brutal opening, which immediately re-engages us with Evans’ world of crime. More importantly though, it feels fresh, the introduction of new characters and new locations igniting the film’s pace; that it’s one of the original’s main characters that is being so callously murdered only adds to the tension.
From here we travel to the heart of an Indonesian jail, where we find Rama; his hair’s shorter, his mood darker, his kicks harder. Having fought his way out of that tower block, Rama now finds himself deep undercover with a small police unit intent on bringing down the many corrupt officials within the force. To do so, Rama must let go of everything he holds dear and work his way through the inner-circles of Jakarta’s criminal underworld. However, it soon becomes clear that with such a career comes unpredictability, as to whether you’ll be able to escape with your life.
Like his opening shot, Evans’ narrative is far more extensive this time round. There are lots of ideas here, as well as lots of new characters. Whereas The Raid was an action thriller, The Raid 2 strives to be a full-blown crime epic that throws you headfirst into Jakarta’s lawless underbelly. Though his story lacks a certain flair for originality, Evans’ tale is spun with such immediacy that it forcefully demands your attention throughout.
To keep such momentum spinning for just shy of 150 minutes demands a strong central performance and Iko Uwais effortlessly carries the weight of that responsibility. Both Evans and Uwais have a clear interest in seeing how Rama’s character develops and though the film is fully invested in all of its characters, Rama remains the beating heart. The emotional key to Uwais’ performance is his subtlety; the growing anguish, frustration & exhaustion of Rama’s desperate situation is cut deeper in to his facial features (literally and metaphorically) as the film pushes forward. No need for a melodramatic meltdown here, the restraint of the final scene is possibly Evans’ greatest masterstroke; we’re left with a man broken by a world he never wanted to be a part of, the softly spoken final lines packing an emotional punch that’s as powerful as one from Rama’s fists.
The Raid proved Evans had more than just a keen eye for capturing violence on the screen and here, with greater scope, he cements his reputation as one of action cinema’s current greats. There’s a visceral intensity to Evans’ style that’s rare in contemporary cinema. His use of handheld cameras and extended takes plants the action in a reality that makes it all the more powerful. It’s gory yes, extraordinarily so at times; Julie Estelle’s appropriately named Hammer Girl single-handedly taking on a group of thugs immediately comes to mind. Yet it never feels gratuitous; the ultra-violence giving creed to the relentlessly threatening world Evans’ characters inhabit.
Like Rama, Evans navigates new terrain in The Raid 2 with confidence and determination. The narrative may not sparkle with originality, but it’s such an enthralling experience that it barely matters. The Raid 2 is a rare example of a sequel that fully justifies its existence and it packs an almighty powerful punch in the process.