THE stylised mayhem returns as Gareth Evans wrings even more action from his latest martial arts thriller
The Raid 2 (18)
Directed by: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Julie Estelle, Very Tri Yulisman
Star rating: * * * *
When The Raid emerged from nowhere two years ago, one of the most mesmerising things about the wall-to-wall (and sometimes through-the-wall) mayhem of this scuzzy, down-and-dirty Indonesian martial arts flick was the ability of Jakarta-based Welsh director Gareth Evans to evoke and harness the illicit thrill and energy of a degraded B-movie action picture and transform it into a communal cinematic experience.
True, it was communal in the way that a riot is communal, but watched with the right crowd, every cracked skull, snapped limb and ripped jugular had a tendency to be greeted with involuntary “Oofs”, “Ows” and cathartic laughter, to the point where it was impossible not to get swept up in the deranged orgy of violence Evans was intent on incrementally unleashing on screen in sequence after sequence.
That same participatory energy is at work in The Raid 2, a sprawling sequel that repeatedly allays any fear that Evans wouldn’t be up to the task of upping the action ante by not only prolonging the fight sequences to the point of exhaustion (in a good way), but inventively intensifying them too.
Be it a prison beat-down that erupts into a full-scale, mud-splattered yard riot, or a highway trashing car chase that incorporates a furious fistfight within the vehicle being pursued, Evans may have cracked the code for getting the most bang for his buck – he certainly gleefully reclaims the word “overkill” as a positive attribute – but it’s not the excess that excites; it’s the way he presents that excess.
Moving his camera like no other director currently working, he puts us in the midst of the carnage, setting up elaborate sequences of orchestrated chaos and getting his camera operators to dart around it, picking out narratively important moments amid the murderous mêlée, rather than simply jerking us around with shaky, action-blurring camera work.
That’s possible because his cast – once again led by Iko Uwais as the diminutive-but-deadly hero cop Rama – are all well practised in the indigenous Indonesian martial art known as pencak silat (a furious fighting style that incorporates fists, feet and blades of steel).
At a time when mainstream cinema is dominated by an endless stream of bloodless comic book movies and dystopian tween fantasies that allow any actor with a personal trainer to qualify as a Jason Bourne-esque action star, there’s certainly an added thrill to being able to watch free-flowing fight sequences being executed with such ruthless and ragged verisimilitude.
But like its predecessor, what’s also great about this aspect of the The Raid 2 is that Evans also eschews the showcase quality of too many martial arts films that think the skills of its stars endlessly slowed down and shot from multiple angles makes for invigorating film-making.
Here, every fight – and there are a lot of very bloody and grizzly ones stretched across its bulked-up 150-minute run time – is used to advance the story.
That’s just as well, because plotting isn’t yet Evans’s forte. Where the first film was as elegantly streamlined as a John Carpenter movie (police SWAT team enter drug lord-controlled tower block and have to fight their way to the top in order to escape), the new film borrows heavily from Infernal Affairs and its Martin Scorsese-directed US remake The Departed, expanding the scope to incorporate an elaborate, years-spanning mission requiring Rama – commended for his virtuous and virtuosic dispensing of violence last time out – to go undercover in order to root out police corruption and bring down a crime syndicate intent on starting a turf war in Jakarta. As a result, there’s a lot of story to get through, and not all of it evenly handled (the arrival of Yayan Ruhian, recast from the first film as a mysterious, machete-wielding vagabond vigilante, feels like Evans is breaking off into another movie until he eventually folds it back into the main plot late on).
And yet, the film is never boring. The trade-off of having a cast proficient in combat skills may be a lack of dramatic nuance in some of the quieter, dialogue-driven moments (one English-language scene late in the film betrays just how much Evans is getting away with through the subtitles). At the same time, The Raid 2 defines its characters through action. Consequently they emerge fully formed, whether they’re given names or simply referred to in the cast list by their weapons of choice. New additions Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), for instance, certainly leave you in little doubt about who they are or what their motivation is, with the latter proving oddly symbolic of the film’s willingness to attempt a more elaborate story without sacrificing its primary function to entertain on a primal level: this is the sort of movie that figuratively swings for the fences – then literally buries the bat in someone’s face. Oof indeed.