I still remember the first time I saw The Raid:Redemption. I lived with my parents at the time and it was about 3 in the morning when I turned it on, meaning I spent the next 100 minutes making a series of high pitched noises and squeals in an attempt to not scream JESUS FUCKING CHRIST every couple of minutes. So when The Raid 2 was announced I felt like a kid on Christmas. Between The Raid and the Safe Haven segment from V/H/S 2 I had already decided I was going to see anything Gareth Evans put out until he gave me a reason not to. It was in theaters for about 20 minutes before getting pulled, and I waited weeks after I saw HD rips posted on torrent sites just to experience it in full Blu Ray glory in my modest home theater. I’m so happy I waited.
The Raid 2 begins 2 hours after the end of The Raid: Redemption. Rama's (Iko Uwais) actions have caught the attention of much larger crime groups, and to protect his wife and infant son he must go undercover into the criminal underworld and climb the ranks until he’s led to the corrupt police at the top of the heap. So he takes on a new identity and befriends Uco, the son of a gang kingpin, and begins his journey of violence as he becomes entrenched in gang warfare and an internal power struggle.
When I saw the movie was 2 and a half hours, I became skeptical. I love The Raid, but it’s structured with the first 10 minutes being plot and minimal character setup and then you barely get a chance to catch your breath for the next hour and a half. What I wasn’t expecting was a tension-filled crime drama inter-spliced with a gorgeous display of violence. The plot and characters are an improvement on the original in every way. It’s not a story about 20 cops infiltrating a gang-controlled building. It’s an epic (and I hate that word) gangland power struggle that picks up right after the first movie with undercover cops, double crossing, betrayal, and some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen.
At no point in the movie did I feel the runtime. I recently reviewed Transformers 4, which was only a bit longer, and I feel like I’m still in the theater watching it. I don’t think the ending credits will start until my funeral. The first half hour was the least interesting and the last half hour was the most interesting in terms of both plot and action. That may sound like I’m saying it’s a slow start, and that would be the case if this was a different movie. This is The Raid, and the build up is completely worth the wait. The final fight scene in the kitchen is one of the most amazing fights I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
The characters range from passable to very good, and none of them stand out in a negative way or drag the film down. Rama and Uco are believeable characters and the cruxes of the story, so no complaints there. But two stand out in a big way: Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Boy. In the middle of this crime drama are two assassins with signature weapons. Hammer Girl is a cute deaf girl who beats people to death with hammers. I can't tell you how happy I am to type that sentence. Every scene with the two of them stands out, and their fight with Rama before the climactic kitchen fight are a highlight as well.
The plot and characters were far better than I was expecting, but I'm here for the action, and the choreography is some of the best I've ever seen and is pushed to perfection by the expert cinematography. It's one thing to spend over a year planning out elaborate action sequences, but it's another entirely to film them properly. Every amateur filmmaker should watch this and see how it's done. The action is reminiscent of the first movie, which is to say it's beautifully shot and unbelievably violent. The kind of violence that has you sitting with your mouth hung open, only catching yourself when you scream "OH FUCK" as someone gets their head bashed into a light. It's sudden, it's deadly, and it's gorgeous. Even when you watch alone you can't help but point at the TV and make guttural noises. This is some of the best action I've ever seen on film and the aforementioned kitchen fight is a masterpiece of violence. Not only is there scene after scene of hand to hand and hammer to face violence, but there's even a car chase. There's a car chase where Rama fights 4 guys in the car that's being chased. You spoil me, movie.
The movie isn't perfect, however, and has its share of minor issues. None of these detracted from the process of watching the movie, but popped up afterwards as I thought about the movie a bit more critically than messaging everyone I know who'd seen it and freaking out like a little girl. First off, it's really confusing that the actor who played Mad Dog in Redemption plays a different character here. He has a very recognizable face, especially considering how much of an impact he made in the first movie, and no relationship to the character is ever acknowledged. The next issue comes with the plot. In the first movie, the plot is "everyone get the fuck out before we're murdered." You have no idea who is going to live to see the end of the movie. Here, it's pretty easy to tell who is going to live until the final confrontation. Speaking of plot, it takes a while for it to become relevant. In the fist half hour it seems like every exposition scene is "hey, here's a reason for Rama to fight a whole bunch of dudes." Then he fights them. Then it happens again. Like I said earlier, the first half hour is the least interesting part, but this stops being a problem the deeper into the film you get.
The final point is technically a spoiler, so I've made it its own separate paragraph. The spoiler itself is literally a pre-credits scene, but if you want to go in completely blind, skip to the next paragraph. In the very beginning of the movie Rama's brother Andi (from Redemption) is shot in the head. Brains blown clear out. We know from the first one Andi had some powerful enemies, and they didn't take kindly to what happened. This becomes a big part of Rama's motivation, so big in fact that it's literally never mentioned again in the rest of the movie after he agrees to go undercover. Turns out Gareth Evans wrote this movie first, but when he saw the budget he decided to make something a little cheaper. So instead of sprawling gang warfare we got a handful of guys in a building. He took this script, made Rama the main character, and added his brother getting killed as motivation. It doesn't really fit this movie at all and this could honestly stand alone as its own film, but they wouldn't have even sniffed the tiny bit of box office success they had if this wasn't called The Raid 2.
I still can’t believe how much I loved this movie. I mean, I’m an idiot Texan and this movie made me read subtitles for 2 and a half hours and keep track of a bunch of different characters that don’t look like God Damn Americans with their silly names and accents. But I was hooked from go, as Rama is sitting in prison and the door in front of him is shaking wildly and you don't know what's on the other side but whatever it is he's probably going to punch it in the fucking face. The film is paced perfectly and slowly escalates and escalates until it hits the final act and then all hell breaks loose.
I usually hate when films are described as a roller coaster, because they describe it as building and building to a climax and then it ends. That sounds like the shittiest roller coaster ever. Who wants to wait in line just to go up really high and then have one exciting payoff? This movie builds and builds, and then pays off, then builds and builds, then pays off, all until the final act where you hit that highest peak and when you drop you can't help but make noises you'd never make in public, and when its over you're so happy you spent all that time waiting for it and you want to go again.
I take notes for every movie I watch for this blog. There were giant stretches at a time where I didn’t write anything down because I was sucked into either the insanely choreographed and filmed action scenes, or I was completley immersed in the plot. Time after time I’d notice the paper out of the corner of my eye and think “oh fuck” and have to pause the movie and jot a couple of things down. My notes for the last 20 minutes of the movie are literally “Oh my God the kitchen fight” and “Holy shit. Just holy shit.”
I’m being very vague with this review because I really don’t want to ruin the experience. The plot is good enough that I don’t want to ruin anything (which I can’t believe I’m saying for a martial arts movie) and the action scenes are so good I don’t want to take anything away from seeing them for the first time. No videos of fights, no .gifs of insane hammer-kills. No spoilers. I'll do full-length, spoiler-filled reviews for all of Evans' movies down the line, but I just want as many people to see this movie as possible.
The reason this surpasses the original so much is because it’s not just the best martial arts movie in decades, but also a fantastic crime drama. It's a competent drama and an amazing action film, which is a beautiful combination. It’s not the best action movie ever made, but it’s absolutely worth your time and belongs in that conversation. I’m going to have to review horror for a while, watching both Raids back to back has destroyed my tolerance for shakycam and quick cuts.
Final Verdict: Watch this movie. Pay money to watch this movie. Transformers made 100 million dollars in its first weekend and this made 5 million before it got pulled from theaters. Everyone involved in creating this deserves money and it definitely deserves your time.
I still don’t know what Berandal means tho