Welsh director Gareth Evans’ new Indonesian martial arts action film The Raid 2 (alternatively called The Raid 2: Berendal) much like its 2011 predecessor The Raid sets the bar very high for action films. The first Raid is arguably the best action film of recent years because of the insane fight choreography and the perfectly compact structure and concise storytelling. It really was as tight and as satisfying, both in terms of action and plot, as action films come. The sequel then, enters with very high expectations indeed. There were seemingly two broad paths that Evans could have explored for his sequel: either essentially remake Raid or expand the story and setting. Evans, to his credit, opted for the latter.
With regards to action and narrative scope, The Raid 2 fully expands on its prequel. What this means is that instead of being a bare-bones action story (containing just enough motivation for each character), The Raid 2 is a full blown crime drama and while I can’t wholeheartedly say that it works all the time I think that it is still reasonably engaging. The crime elements however do not obstruct the action, in fact they actually give us more reasons to care about Rama, and boy, does he go through hell in this film. I suspect it will be a lot more engaging for those familiar with crime dramas, but even for the uninitiated it is still quite easy to get a hold of. Overall, I’d say Evans gets points for trying.
But this is the sequel to The Raid right? Who cares about story, all we want to see are people hitting each other in various scenarios. But don’t worry, the sequel delivers the fighting in spades and in my eyes far surpasses any action set piece in the first film. There are at least 3 fight scenes that would waltz their way into my top 5 or top 10 best fight scenes list – which sounds like a niche list that I will probably never make. What makes the fight scenes so good and worth talking about is that they are completely rooted in character and plot, as opposed to just having fight scenes because all the talking was going on a bit too long. Secondly, Evans directs the scenes with such fluidity and enthralling effervescence that you just cannot take your eyes off the screen and are left wondering “How did they ever manage to film that?”
For example, there is a car chase (a good one at that), and fight sequence in said car during the chase! To highlight the ramping up of the tension Evans makes his camera pass through two or three cars seamlessly. I’ve seen the behind the scenes featurette and I still don’t know how it works. It is just mesmerising cinema; it puts American/Western counterparts to shame.
All that said however at 150 minutes – compared to 100 for The Raid – it is ever so slightly cumbersome. There are sections which are in desperate need of editing but I suppose that is to be expected given the expanded scope. Still, some more rigorous editing would’ve ameliorated this problem. It wasn’t just the shortened running time that made sure the first film did not suffer from this problem, the setting also helped contributed to what I would call a ‘successful’ structure. Since the action in The Raid took place in one apartment block the drama and the characters were funneled together, making everything seem claustrophobic and gave one the sense that anybody could die at any moment. Everyone, including Rama, felt expendable. With the expansion of the story and the added variety of the setting some of that tension is lost and Rama can sometimes feel like a demi-god, wreaking havoc in Jakarta. The film understands its own absurdity that masquerades as serious ‘realistic’ fighting, so all is not lost. Individually though, the fight scenes still remain kinetic and tense.
Commentary from director Gareth Evans – Very illuminating. For a director of action films, he is very clever and understands exactly what he wants to achieve.
Special featurette about making a sequel – Ten minute segment about how they approached making The Raid 2. Features how they did that car chase which is absolutely nuts.
English Language Version – In case you don’t like subtitles. There are multiple languages in the film, so I assume some things may be lost in translation.