One day, my final words will be, “sure, I can take Rama in a fight.”

2011’s The Raid: Redemption came out of nowhere as a thrilling, brutal, action-packed martial arts extravaganza that proved to be one of the best action films of the last twenty years (an arbitrary number that I am making up). As popular and beloved as it became, a sequel was certainly inevitable. But, when a first film hits as many highs as that one did right out of the gate, it’s pretty understood that there is nowhere for the sequel to go but down. Fortunately for us, writer/director Gareth Evans doesn’t subscribe to that theory.

Picking up immediately after the end of the first film, Rama must now protect his family by going undercover amongst the criminal underworld of Jakarta. Ingraining himself with the son of a mob boss in order to work his way up the hierarchy, Rama discovers that the enemies he faced before were nothing compared to what he is up against now.

The Raid 2
Directed by
Gareth Evans
Cast
Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
Release Date
11 April 2014
Jason’s Grade: A+

Everything that the first film delivered, this follow-up ups the ante in spades.  To the possible dismay of many, that also means the dramatic elements.  The storyline here is much more involved this time around and we get a lot more backstory on the characters.  There are moments of genuine emotional depth to go along with the crunching of bones.  The twists and turns are layered on pretty thick, but that just adds to the enjoyment of it all.  You’ll find yourself invested quite a bit more this time around, even during the quieter moments.

Because of the emphasis on story here, the acting becomes more crucial than ever.  Just like the first time around Iko Uwais is a knockout (yep) as Rama.  He’s given much more dialogue this time around and he handles his new character depth quite well.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s an amazing martial artist.  Yayan Ruhian also returns from the first film, but playing a different character here.  Previously, he excelled at playing pure evil, but there’s a lot more pathos to his character here which he handles beautifully.  Needless to say, he is also a fantastically skilled fighter as he and Uwais are additionally credited as the fight choreographers.  Acting-wise, the best performance is probably given by Arifin Putra, looking not-unlike a young Bruce Campbell, as the heir to a mob family.  His story-arc certainly has shades of Michael Corleone, but he tackles his beats superbly as his character’s life begins to unravel (much of his own doing).  He becomes almost as central of a character here as Rama – the first film’s emphasis on the relationship between two brothers gives way here to conflict between father and son.

Make no mistake, however – despite the fact that story and acting are bumped up for this second outing, it was not at the expense of the action.  There is more fighting, in more brutal ways, in this film than the first one could even dream of (and, that is saying a lot).  Glorious action set-pieces are all over this thing, including a thrilling mud-filled prison fight, an amazing scene in a restaurant kitchen, and a car chase with fully choreographed fight scenes INSIDE of the car.  I can’t make this stuff up, but, fortunately Evans CAN.

Those scenes just touch the surface of the excitement here.  There are at least a half-dozen more that will have you gripping your armrests in ways they have not been gripped since that repertory screening of My Dinner With Andre.  These are some of the most brutal and visceral, yet absolutely stunning fight scenes I have ever scene (outside of a Wal-Mart on Black Friday).  The choreography by Uwais and Ruhian is nothing short of amazing.  Especially effective are the addition of two new characters – Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, whose weapons of choice should be painfully (very painfully) obvious from their names.  Anytime they are on the screen (which is not as much as you’d like, but they smartly leave you wanting more), the tension somehow finds a setting above maximum.  Baseball Bat Man’s repeated catchphrase will begin to give you shudders after you’ve heard it a couple of times.

The real star of this thing, however, is writer/director Gareth Evans.  Besides the beautiful big picture, he minds all of the small details that many other films may gloss over, which makes this one all the more special.  The aforementioned prison fight in the mud causes its participants to slip around quite a bit, which it naturally would and, despite the fact that he’s an absolute beast that won’t stop coming, you believe that Rama’s wounds have an actual effect on his fighting abilities as the movie goes on.

Foregoing the claustrophobia of the single-building setting of the first film, Evans gives this one more of an operatic feel, and it is absolutely gorgeous.  Along with his cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono, they find ways to make the visuals stunning and the color contrasts really pop.  There seems to be a bit more shaky-cam this time around, but it never gives way to quick cuts or dark lighting.  Everything here is in full view, often in long takes and master shots.  There may be a few times where you WISH you hadn’t seen what you saw, but you’re going to see it, dammit.  The music, once again, is used sparingly, but effectively.  When the familiar theme comes in at the end, you’ll want to stand and cheer if you have anything left in you.

JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS

When I had heard that this sequel would no longer be confined to one location, I was afraid that this one would suffer from the same downhill fall that the Die Hard series did when they opened that one up to a wider, more sprawling setting.  I, however, was an idiot.  The first entry was one of my favorite movies of 2011, and they’ve somehow figured out how to top that film in every way imaginable.  I highly recommend re-watching the first one just before seeing the follow-up.  Not because it’s necessary to remind yourself story-wise, but because it makes the experience all the more amazing.  The natural progression between the two films is absolutely stunning.  The ending certainly leaves it open to become a trilogy, so please rush out and see this film in order to help ensure that happens.  If you read my reviews on a regular basis (and then re-read them to friends and children at bedtime) then you know that I’m not normally one to gush, but I’m officially giving out my first A+ rating for this flick.  I just hope that the third film forces me to create a rating even higher.

Review by Lead Writer and Film Critic, Jason Howard