Monday, April 21, 2014

The Raid 2 (2014) Review

The Raid 2

“The Raid” was one of those film surprises a couple of years ago that came out of nowhere and gave some revitalized juice to the action genre by showing up just about every one of its bigger budget brethren. Director Gareth Evans combined the claustrophobic setting of “Die Hard” with hard-hitting martial arts violence in such a way that was fresh and invigorating. Now Evans returns for its sequel, “The Raid 2,” to expand the story of the Indonesian original beyond one building and into the realm of an operatic gangster thriller.

Rookie Officer Rama may have escaped from the nightmare apartment block but quickly finds out that he merely stepped into a larger picture. He is swiftly sent undercover into a crime syndicate in order to uncover corruption that runs through the police force. After serving a stint in prison to create a new identity, Rama finds himself getting close to the crime boss’ son, whose brash attitude eventually sparks a flurry of gang violence between the local crime families.

Like many of the best sequels, “The Raid 2” sets itself apart by not repeating the formula of the first film. Rather than dilute the tightly wound storytelling, the widened story scope allows Evans greater freedom to lay out his plan and then unleash it in a torrent of impeccably choreographed action. If the original “Raid” succeeded because of its fat-free simplicity, it’s follow-up relishes in setting up the dominos with a fleshed out story and then toppling them down one by one.

Rama, a hero with only the barest of character qualities last time, benefits the most from this as he worries about the safety of his family and begins feeling the strain of diving headfirst into criminal activity. Evans also serves up a cache of memorable villains with their own distinguishable trait, from the arrogant Uco to silent assassins Hammer Girl and Bat Boy. Their titular weapons don’t go to waste once the action kicks in.

The movie sidesteps the frequent action film problem of repetitive action by creating set pieces with their own memorable qualities. Escalation in the action is another factor as the action continuously tops itself with each consecutive sequence. What sets this film apart from others in the genre is Evan’s camerawork that captures and tracks every punch and kick with smooth gliding motions.

The climatic kitchen duel is an exquisite example of how to build tension and dramatic investment through action rather than simply create noise. This isn’t a film that holds back on the violence either. Characters, for the most part, aren’t clean-cut invulnerable supermen as they take and dish out brutal punishment, and the squeamish are advised to stay away from this one.

But there’s a certain beauty to the action that offsets its rough edge. The immaculately clean environments of the rich gangsters serve as a contrast to the grungy settings that their clashes play out in, and the harsh blows are filmed with such fluid grace that it’s hard to look away. “The Raid 2” may leave you battered and bruised once it’s finished, but you’ll also exit in a rush of delirious adrenaline that won’t soon go away.

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