Despite managing to experience an early screening of The Raid 2, I’m already late with a review. No walk outs at my screening, but if I could shove the entire internet audience in, its reception would lead to a World War III among the audience. For those who don’t want to read me going over the film in nauseating detail, just read the headlines.
It’s not bad
Your own appreciation and/or tolerance of The Raid 2 is in how you approach it. I’ve created a Coles Notes version of the review for those who don’t like things written in paragraphs.
Just like its predecessor, The Raid, the film arrived with of a shitstorm of hype. Action-lovers were quick to the internet to vote the 9 and 10s on IMDb as soon as the first premieres happened. Even worse was that The Raid 2‘s early reviews compared the film to The Godfather (!) After hearing that, I tried to avoid all promotion, gushing, trailers, and reviews until I could see the damn thing myself. I had trouble avoiding the trailer, as YouTube “suggestions” got the better of me, and my regular Twitter feed wanted to see and hear every little bit they could. I succumbed to watching a single trailer, but that was it. Not bad for avoiding it like the plague.
With this kind of hype, I don’t think anyone could go in and be 100% satisfied. Is it the best action film ever? To some maybe, but what are you comparing it too? Is Drunken Master 2 your favourite? Dirty Harry? The Killer? Terminator 2? Mad Max 2? These are films that excel in different ways and can’t all be measured by the same yard stick. So once the phrase “best _____ ever” comes into play, we all enter with different expectations of how it’s going to trump whatever we imagine to be the best in the genre. So if you are expecting this film to be similar to Mad Max 2, you are shit out of luck.
People have told me after seeing this that the plot is dumber than a bag of hammers. Firmly plant me in the audience who wants his film peppered with a story that tries to do something different. These carbon copy screenplays leave me bored to tears when action isn’t happening though, so you have to really admire some of the cast or crew to watch them go through the same old hat that many times, right?
This is going to be problematic for those who loved The Raid for its simple “kill the guys” plot. Simple isn’t bad, but simple with innovation is best. Unlike The Raid, which limited itself to individual grungy rooms, The Raid 2 takes place in various locations that include car chases, long lush hallways, dance clubs, prison bathrooms, and gives the viewers new characters and new locations to cause havoc! As the plot progresses, they up the ante involving the gangster plot and Iko Uwais’ character moving through the ranks as an undercover cop in the crime underworld. Not exactly deep, but I’m not expecting Ingmar Bergman either.
This movie doesn’t have a stronger story underneath the action scenes like the gangster films of Johnnie To or John Woo. It lacks their more in-depth views of Cop/Gangster politics and their own personal views on how their characters act in their lives. It’s closer to a Luc Besson produced film, with lots of flashy scenes and attempts at character development. It’s all rather baroque in that sense: it looks nice, but lacks the depth to bring any real meaning to it. That’s fine by me though, as you see scenes as cartoonish as a shotgun to the face or a women walking off a porno set with a rubber strap-on. Set your expectations accordingly.
||DOES SECONDARY THINGS
BETTER THAN THE RAID
From the opening scene, it feels like less of a low budget film than The Raid. Sets are decorated wisely and we are constrained to a single building where each floor looks the same. This leads to great scenes, including a car chase organized by the Hong Kong team headed by Bruce Law. The secondary cast is much stronger too, with good performances by Tio Pauksadewo as the mob boss and Ryuhei Matsuda, who almost resembles a subdued J-pop boy band member. Enough has been said about Hammer Girl and Baseball Batman elsewhere, but I enjoyed these James Bond-esque villains who deliver the goods. They aren’t exactly fleshed-out, but they give us enough of a break from Iko Uwais, and allows other characters to display things that are desperately missing in The Raid, such as humor, or y’know, different locations. I don’t think anyone laughed at my screening of The Raid, but there were more much needed humorous touches in The Raid 2.
I have really mixed feelings about Yayan Ruhian, the long-haired character in the film. Yayan’s side-plot isn’t needed in an already 2+ hour film but contain good choreographed action during his finale. Here’s hoping you can integrate him better into the plot next time, Gareth!
||SOME MAJOR THINGS ARE
WORSE THAN THE RAID
Early action scenes in the film do not entirely work. Evans sets-up the two prison action scenes at the mudpit and the washroom, quite admirably building the right amount of tension before they should take off. However, as soon as they start, they are plagued by shakey-cam and are bit hard to follow what’s going on, especially with Uwais battling several people at once.
As the plot progresses, I found the shaky cam less obtrusive or perhaps less prevalent. This brings up my theory: do we only really notice these techniques in films when we are frustrated with a film’s plot points or when scenes run on too long? Other shakey-cam pioneers, like Lars von Trier, have cams moving around like they’re manned by a drunk, but I only notice it during scenes where I’m getting a bit bored about extended conversations about fly fishing or whatever is happening in Nymphomaniac. But back to The Raid 2, when Iko leaves prison, I got into the film more and ta-da, the shakey-cam seemed less distracting. Magic!
Most frustrating for me is that the biggest problem I had with The Raid is still present: Iko Uwais’ acting. It doesn’t live up to the standards of the rest of his cast. His facial expression never changes beyond a brooding stare. That being said, he can brood with the best of ‘em, but even Batman cracks jokes with Alfred once in awhile and Christian Bale is mocked incessantly for his Nolan Batman series online. Iko’s brow never changes, even during the following events:
I had to keep myself from giggling in the theater when we see Iko on a toilet looking quite cross at something at one point in the film. It’s revealed that he’s just about to meet up with a host of baddies who are eager for his blood outside his stall, but it looks like he’s just intensely upset about his lack of Pepto Bismol. Iko is a long ways away from other leading men who can balance out facial reactions to match a scene.
So, The Raid 2 fixes several things I tolerated in the first film and offers a greater amount of variety and whiz and bang. What it lacks, however, is a story that pushes it beyond the action that is inherent in the films of To, Woo, or Ringo Lam. It also needs a leading actor with the skill and charisma of Chow Yun Fat. If you can overlook the hype machine and want to see a flashy, lengthy film with lots of violent action, The Raid 2 lives up to such standards. If you want the next The Killer or Exiled, you’re going to be checking your watch. If you are looking for crazy action reminiscent of golden era Hong Kong, then just wait until they get out of prison in the film. I hope Evans doesn’t abandon action films entirely, but with such hype erupting before these films even screen, how could his next work be anything but underwhelming? Maybe he needs to take a break and come back to The Raid franchise once the hype for these films settles down.