By Shane M. Dallmann
Let’s get a little potential wire-crossing resolved first: the RAID films come to us from director Gareth EVANS, who is not to be confused with Gareth EDWARDS of the upcoming GODZILLA redux!
Apparently, the title THE RAID: REDEMPTION sounded like a sequel itself, so the sequel comes to us with a mere clarifying “2” as it picks up directly where REDEMPTION leaves off. Officer Rama (Iko Uwais) thought it would be time to go home to his family after dropping the bad guy off for justice through the system, but… no. He’s eagerly recruited by an ultra-secret police faction that resorts to vigilante tactics to make sure that once a bad guy is down, he STAYS down. The honorable Rama wants no part of this and says so, but soon realizes that he really has no choice if he wants to keep his family safe. So he says goodbye to his wife and son for a deep undercover mission he’s told will only last “a couple of months.” Two years later…
While THE RAID 2 initially looks like it’s going to reprise its predecessor by confining its action to a single building (a prison hellhole), Evans’ horizons are much broader here. The situation into which Rama walks is, at its heart, boilerplate GODFATHER (the local Indonesian mob wants to keep the peace with the encroaching Chinese and Japanese factions; young hotshot doesn’t think the “old man” has what it takes anymore and will do anything to get ahead), but there’s nothing wrong with that! Previous reviews have suggested that this film is non-stop, wall-to-wall violence and gore, which really isn’t the case. But these two-and-a-half hours absolutely fly by even though the myriad characters (not a single one of whom is wasted, including the homeless hit man and the unforgettable combo of “Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man”) frequently DO sit down to talk.
But yes, it’s the astonishingly brutal mayhem that people are talking about… it’s so interesting that this is the second consecutive sequel I’ve seen (qf: WINTER SOLDIER) in which I’ve complimented the action choreography… but nobody could possibly confuse one with the other… the sanitized, PG-13 warfare of the CAP sequel maintains its existence in its own fantasy environment and makes effective use of the most up-to-date special effects technology just as people expect; but THE RAID 2? Well… I no longer see the point of the “R” rating. Actually, I lost sight of it a LONG time ago, but if THIS is an “R” for violence, then I can’t even IMAGINE what an NC-17 version would be like. No special effects, no CGI (and by the way, that extends to one of the most impressive vehicle-meets-structure stunts I’ve seen in quite a while)… but I must confess that the “shaky-cam” effect was SO extreme here that even your high-threshold reviewer nearly got seasick this time.
That’s not a good enough reason to skip THE RAID 2, which climaxes with a most satisfying traditional mano-a-mano after many an impressively surreal set piece… Uwais is as intense as martial-arts superstars have ever come (and of course they’ve ALREADY announced a third entry) and the movie will leave you reeling… but I’m still going to have to reserve final judgement until I see this title on Blu-Ray. Sacrilege, perhaps, but the digital copy I saw (the SECOND one received by the local arthouse after the first one malfunctioned) was dark and dingy even when prisoners WEREN’T battling in the mud… surely some of these sequences were meant to be bright and colorful (I’m looking forward to revisiting the amazing nightclub scene in its full glory, for instance) and I’m not convinced that I really saw the film I was meant to see. Could anyone who’s seen this title outside of Monterey County give me a visual report?