Review: The Raid 2
The ultimate question regarding The Raid 2 is whether or not two hours of meandering, ineffectual drama punctuated by moments of bloody frenzy is justified by a pair of incredible fight scenes that arrive at the end.
In short, it’s not. The sequel to one of the best action films in recent memory crumbles under the possibilities and pressure that comes with getting a bigger budget, more attention, and no limitations.
What made the first film so mesmerizing was its simple story and raw, unforgiving action. It was one man trying to escape a death trap of a tenement building, endlessly fighting his way, killing foe after foe in every imaginable, bloody way possible.
In The Raid 2, well, there is a lot more going on in a convoluted plot that involves rival gangs, betrayal, and familial drama. It’s unfortunately (and maybe inevitably) The Matrix: Reloaded. You’ve a mesmerizing, novel action film that becomes more popular than it could have imagined; so you follow it up with something that gets way too out of control, too full of itself, then just silly. But hey, you can still enjoy the first one again.
Our hero Rama returns, and we get a glimpse of him in the aftermath of the chaos of Round One, seeking safety with the only person he thinks he can trust. After a lengthy conversation (rather, a one-way monologue), he is convinced that he must, in order to protect his family, pretend to be a criminal, infiltrate a prison, become close to another criminal, get out, become even closer to said criminal, and bust corrupt cops who help his crime family.
Rama also needs to survive along the way, finding himself involved in a muddy prison fight, an intimate car battle, and one last raid. There is also a lot going on around Rama, though, that he isn’t aware of exactly and the audience is just sort of confused by. Rival gangs are may be striking deals, probably betraying one another, and sons are trying to prove themselves to fathers.
Director Gareth Evans’ reach exceeds his grasp in this excessively long action adventure that wants to be a crime drama and a suspenseful mystery in addition to a relentless violent assault. Sure, we don’t want a carbon copy of the first film, and while Evans ambition can be lauded, it doesn’t pan out in this unevenly paced, disappointing follow-up. Until a spellbinding finale – and it truly awe-inspiring – where The Raid 2 comes the closest to recreating the brilliance of The Raid, Rama comes and goes, as the story takes its time introducing a variety of characters who stand out visually but lack depth.
Surely, Hammer Girl and Bat Boy are especially intriguing, and each gets a chance to showcase his or her deadly skills before meeting Rama in a most dramatic set-to. It is indeed refreshing to see a woman in the film whose job doesn’t deal with sex; Hammer Girl is a sunglasses-wearing assassin, taking with her a pair of weapons on the bloodiest subway ride ever.
Needless to say, none of this is for the faint of heart. It’s the sights but also the sounds – bones cracking, necks sliced, and heads hitting walls – that will make you cringe and scoff; it is unbelievably brutal and will test your mettle. At times it’s simply excessive. We are introduced to the many, many new characters, but when we neither care about them nor the many bystanders they are slaying, it’s hard to be invested.
When Rama or any of his very few colleagues are involved, in this movie or the last, we care; otherwise it’s just mindless bloodshed. And that’s all well and good, but paired with a melodramatic narrative that interrupts the action and tries patience is frustrating at best.
Still, the action is there – it’s bigger, badder, and bloodier, but everything in between just doesn’t connect. The dazzling ending offers some redemption, but you can’t get there soon enough.