When The Raid: Redemption came out, it took me three years of hearing constant praise from every critic I heard talk about it, before I actually saw it. I immediately regretted dragging my feet, because it proved to be the greatest martial arts movie I’ve ever seen. Granted, I haven’t seen all that many, but The Raid: Redemption is head and shoulders above the rest. When The Raid 2 came out earlier this year, I was excited, but once again dragged my feet in watching. But this time, for a different reason.
This time, I hesitated because I didn’t want to waste the impact, the thrill of seeing The Raid 2 for the first time. I got anxious, knowing it’s one of those movies where the first viewing would undeniably be the best viewing. But today, I finally felt like the time was right, and I watched The Raid 2.
Picking up just hours after the climax of The Raid: Redemption, the only survivors are bloodied and bruised. There’s a good guy from the first one I didn’t really remember, crooked cop Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), and the first film’s hero,
Rama (Iko Uwais). The three are being interrogated by Bunawar (Cok Simbara), who immediately orders a flunky to kill Wahyu, before revealing himself to Rama as the head of a deep undercover department of cops.
Bunawar tries to recruit Rama who refuses. Until he learns of the assassination of his brother. Then Rama is on board to take a new identity and beat the crap out of a politician’s son so he can be sent to jail and get close to Uco (Arifin Putra), son of the local mob boss.
Left to build his cover in jail for two years, there are some awesome fight scenes as Rama ingratiates himself with Uco. On his release, Rama is immediately employed by Uco’s father, Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Then it’s a couple of hours of convoluted gang rivalries and politics, double crosses, deceitful machinations and chicanery, stopping every so often for another mind blowing fight.
And the fights are mind blowing. In the first 10 minutes, we see Rama facing the realities of prison, talking on 15 dudes in a toilet cubicle. Writer / director Gareth Evans actually manages to top every fight in the first movie in this one toilet altercation, and things only get bigger, crazier and more amazing from there.
Well, the fights do, but as much as The Raid 2 is mammoth jump forward in its depiction of action, it’s a pretty big step back in storytelling. When you need 150 minutes to fit in all your fights and convoluted plot points, maybe you should take a step back, and see what fat can be trimmed. Because the story here really is all over the place, with too many characters, too many attempted big reveals, and too much plot setup that just never pays off.
Actually, there is something almost as impressive as the fight scenes. The way The Raid 2 is shot makes me depressed that an action movie will probably never get any Oscar attention for cinematography. The people working the cameras in this movie didn’t learn any of these skills in film school. This is truly innovative stuff. Thinking that someone choreographed, then performed these fight scenes is undeniably impressive. Seeing the inventive ways the camera operators find to capture these scenes is just as impressive.
The Raid: Redemption kept the story simple, kept things moving, and was the better for it. If there was a 90 minute edit of The Raid 2 that just went from fight to fight, no clunky story speed bumps along the way, that’s a movie I’d watch again and often. But here, the story really was that ill conceived and ill executed, that it’s lucky it has the greatest fight sequences ever committed to film. Anything less, and they never would have made up for the shitty, shitty narrative.