Within the scope of its limited ambition, 2011’s The Raid was a perfect action movie. The Indonesian film, written by Welshman Gareth Evans, featured astonishing action set pieces choreographed by martial arts experts Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian. The film garnered a huge following, so it was no surprise that it was swiftly followed by a sequel. The Raid 2 is a much more ambitious film: whereas the first was set in a single tower block, the sequel is a sprawling two-and-a-half hour epic set across Jakarta’s criminal underworld. Taking place right after the events of the first film, surviving badass cop Rama (Uwais) is sent undercover to build a case against the corrupt senior cops who protect the city’s criminal overlords. Rama has strong personal reasons for agreeing, but it’s nevertheless one of those occasions where you don’t really have a choice: if he says no, Rama will almost certainly be killed, as will his family. The only way out is to keep moving forward, winning the trust of senior mob bosses while also managing incompetent and uncaring superiors in the police force. As someone points out to Rama later in the film, the only way to extricate himself and protect his family is to eliminate all the crime bosses, and their police patrons, for good.
The plot brings to mind movies like Infernal Affairs, and Rama is a very sympathetic character. He’s also, once again, an extremely effective one-man-army and the film features several lengthty and brutal fight scenes, both one-on-one and one-versus-many. The first film was very violent, of course, but The Raid 2 really ups the ante and features spectacular set-pieces and some quite gruesome executions. For the most part the violence makes sense, but the second half of the movie does see a move towards more stylized violence. We are also introduced to two assassins who are each based around the idea of a single gimmick: one uses a baseball and bat, and the other is a stylish young mute lady who uses a pair of claw hammers and always wears shades. These characters revel in brutal executions, and I really disliked their presence. They felt very out of sync with the sincere tone of the rest of the film, and more like a knowing nod towards the Tarantino style of ironical comic book violence. It’s a bad sign for the franchise, and I really hope that future films don’t go further down this path.
When the film is making an effort to be sincere, it is capable of producing decent characters. The crime family which Rama infiltrates is led by the gruff but charismatic elder statesman Bangun, while Rama befriends Bangun’s hotheaded son Uco, who looks uncannily like Bruce Campbell. Bangun’s consigliere Eka also gets a moment to shine towards the end of the film. Many of the film’s events are precipitated by Uco’s egotistical behaviour and desire to usurp his father, meaning he conducts an underhanded alliance with rival mobster Bejo. Bejo was one of the film’s problems for me, largely because he is devoid of menace, physical appeal, or any charisma. He also sports physical disabilities, which is fine in itself but taken with his lack of discernible mob boss attributes means he lacks credibility. He is often seen bringing in defenceless victims to be executed like beasts, but we never see how they are supposed to have been overpowered or defeated. The whole Bejo storyline feels incongruous, and I would have preferred they had cut him and his his faction (including the gimmicky assassins) out of the movie and shortened it by a good half hour.
Indeed, at 150 minutes the film is far too long, and especially considering the body count and level of violence, sitting through it is a test of endurance as much as anything. It’s a shame, because the film is not without moments of compassion and human feeling, but in the absence of any real humour (sorry, watching a girl slaughter a group of grown men with a pair of hammers doesn’t count), it turns into a slog. It’s an impressive film, with some wonderful technical and artistic achievements, but it only partly lives up to its lofty ambitions.