Directed by Gareth Evans
If you’re a cinephile who is disillusioned with the modern age of action movie fakery (and how could you not be?), Gareth Evans is like the Second Coming. Bursting onto the international scene in 2011 with The Raid: Redemption, the director eschewed every modern computer-generated pixel-fest for no-holds-barred, bloody fight choreography so furious, it raised the bar on an entire genre. And while I thought it impossible, he’s managed to take it up several more notches for its sequel.
The Raid 2 picks up directly where the last film left off, dropping battered hero Rama out of the frying pan and into the fire. As it turns out, the corrupt foes he faced in the last film were just a small faction in a vast and intricately connected criminal underworld. In order to protect his family from reprisal, the poor guy must go undercover, starting with a prison term, to infiltrate the vast network of corrupt officials and mob enforcers. What follows is a sprawling martial arts crime epic – like The Godfather by way of the Shaw Brothers.
In The Raid: Redemption, characters were identified by little more than their fists. For round two, Evans takes time out for the various relationships and power struggles that drive the story, which unfolds over several years instead of a few hours. It’s nothing you haven’t seen in a dozen yakuza films, but it makes the action a little more meaningful and increases the stakes even more.
Of course, everyone is here for the action, and while it isn’t wall-to-wall this time, every set piece is unique and totally thrilling. Virtually every modern Hollywood film over-edits the action into incomprehensibility (usually to hide shit choreography), but Evans is not a “fix it in post” filmmaker. With the aid of outrageously talented actors and fight choreographers, he stages some of the bloodiest and most revolutionary brawls ever conceived (including a finale showdown that may go down in history as the best fight scene ever filmed). And by mixing it up with a multitude of characters, environments, and weapons, Evans makes sure the action never feels repetitive or tiring – it just barrels along, upping the ante with every slash and pummel.
It’s absolutely hilarious to read the negative reviews online. A quick search of Rotten Tomatoes shows the horrified ramblings of stuffier movie critics who are more out of their element than a nun at a Black Flag show. Those sentiments were no doubt shared by the older, well-dressed gentleman sitting beside me at the press screening who was making constipated sounds and irritated grumbles through the lengthy runtime. So it goes without saying that these films work best in a packed theater full of fist-pumping movie fanatics.
Without a doubt, The Raid 2 is a superior sequel in every way and effortlessly falls into the pantheon of the world’s best martial arts films while establishing Evans as the greatest working action filmmaker. If this doesn’t do it for you, nothing ever will.
4 1/2 out of 5