The Raid 2 Review: One of the Best Action Movies Ever Made, Unfortunately Wrapped Around a Ponderous Gangster Film Shell

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To say that I was looking forward to The Raid 2 is, well, a severe understatement–I was absolutely dying to see the action movie sequel, even going as far as proclaiming it my most anticipated film of 2014.  The original 2012 film The Raid is an action movie I revisit all the freaking time, and remains one of my personal favorites of the genre.  So in that sense, this greatly expanded, higher budgeted sequel had a lot to live up to.  But leading up to the film’s release, word of mouth seemed to indicate that not only would the film live up to my expectations, but quite possibly exceed them.  This of course lead to me jumping on top of the hype train completely and, the first chance I got, I rushed to see the finished film.  So now that I have, did it indeed deliver?  Well, kind of.  You see, The Raid 2 is actually TWO movies…and though one of those succeeds to an insane degree, unfortunately, the other leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Okay yeah, The Raid 2 isn’t literally two films, but it certainly feels that way.  Throughout my entire viewing of the film I was kind of puzzled about the two distinct sides of The Raid 2 (or as its commonly subtitled as The Raid 2: Berandal), to the point that I did what I often do with new releases that confuse me: looked up its production history.  And to that end, it came as no surprise that the storyline for The Raid 2 was adapted from a previous script that writer/director Gareth Evans wrote, but couldn’t get produced.  Instead he made the original Raid film.  But when that film came out and was a success, Evans decided to revisit his Berandal script, and merge it with ideas he had for a sequel to The Raid.  And thus, The Raid 2: Berandal was born.  Basically, he gave it the Live Free or Die Hard treatment: took a script he made before hand, and just re-adapted it into something that felt more in line with the previous film.

And man, it shows.  The Raid 2 has little to do with the first film aside from its main character, as the remaining plot threads left open at the end of The Raid are closed off (a.k.a. murdered) in literally the first fifteen minutes of this one.  And one of those loose threads happens to be our hero Rama’s brother, who is killed offscreen by an evil gangster named Bejo.  Rama’s brother’s death is the crux of the entirety of the plot (though it’s easy to forget about the detail when the film goes into full on crazy mood), as Rama goes down the path of revenge by getting himself thrown into prison and making friends with the son of a rival gang lord.  Yeah, not Bejo’s son…the son of the man who is Bejo’s enemy.  Yes, it’s just as an effective revenge tactic as it sounds.

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Following the prison segment at the beginning (which is a good half-hour actually, including one terrific fight scene in a mud pit) the film flashes two years in time and, from their, really goes off the rails.  Look, I appreciate Gareth Evans trying to go bigger with his story and the universe these characters inhabit, but there was something absolutely joyous in my mind about the simplicity of the first film.  It was just about a guy stuck in a building, trying to fight his way out.  Yeah there was some other stuff too about corruption of the police and what not, but I never felt that angle of The Raid really worked…and to see it amplified here ten-fold does not do this film any favors.

The Raid 2 believes itself to be (or at the very least, desperately wants to be) a gangster film on the level of The Departed or even The Godfather, but I don’t think it’s too unfair to say it doesn’t reach those levels.  In fact, the gangster film segments of the film are sadly just not very entertaining, with too much unneeded exposition being thrown around and either too little or too much going on in quite a few of the scenes.  The real brunt of these plot moments happen in the second act, which is far and away the worst part of the film.  I felt bored, which is something I never expected to feel well watching a movie as action-packed as The Raid 2.  But at a bloated 150 minutes the gangster segments just go on way too long, and add almost nothing to the finished film.

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Even worse, this middle act goes on so many digressions that I kind of forgot that I was even watching a Raid movie; main character Rama disappears for a good twenty minutes and, when he finally shows up again, I literally said in my head “Oh yeah, that guy!”  I really like the character of Rama and believe that Iko Uwais does a great job at making him a mostly likeable lead, but it’s a shame that we don’t get to spend as much time with him here as we do in the original.  Or, to be fair, maybe we spend the exact same amount of time: since it’s nearly an hour longer than the first film, I guess the Rama time can easily be balanced out.  

Which, by the way, would have been the simple solution for the film: cut it down.  For an action movie The Raid 2 is bloated as hell, and I can easily see 20 minutes of non-action material being cut out of this film without it suffering too badly (specifically a huge digression in the second act that brings back a familiar face, to do almost nothing with him), and that’s not even including the idea of cutting down some of the really long action scenes.  At 100 minutes The Raid was an extremely brisk, perfectly paced action film.  But at 152 minutes, The Raid 2 simply isn’t.

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During the second act collapse in this film, I started to tell myself one important thing: don’t forget how you feel right now.  I reminded myself not to forget how frustrated or bored I was during a large majority of scenes in this middle segment, or how easy some of the problems that this film has could have been fixed with a tighter edit.  The only reason I told myself this was because, if the film happened to have a massive uptick in quality in its final third, it could be easy for my enthusiasm to overshadow my disappointments.  In reality, only half of what I suspected happened though: I didn’t forget about my gripes regarding some of the film’s weaker moments, but man oh man did the third act do a lot to redeem this whole enterprise.

And that’s mostly because, by and large, the final hour of this film is just a bunch of action scenes.  Yeah there’s some quick exposition scenes here and there but, between one of the best car chases I’ve ever seen and a very video game inspired Tower of Terror-type final level, the last hour of this film absolutely floored me.  Despite my reservations with Evans as a screenwriter, I can’t deny that he is one hell of a director, and the action scenes contained within this final hour (and heck, the entire movie) proves that Evans might just be the best action director we have working in the industry.  His eye for action is impeccable, the choreography remains amazing, and the actors remain as game as ever to beat the ever living shit out of each other (in the best way possible, of course)  The final hour of The Raid 2 is the closest the film came to reaching the action heights of the first film and, at points, even surpasses it.  The kitchen scene and aforementioned highway chase and mud pit brawls make this film worth the price of admission alone and, if the movie was just that and the other action scenes, I would feel no shame in calling it one of the best action films ever made.  But alas, there is a whole other side of The Raid 2 that just isn’t as polished or fun to watch as the fight scenes are.

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Overall, The Raid 2 is a bit of a missed opportunity.  With a shorter length and more enthralling storyline to enhance the action, this could have been a film for the ages.  But as it stands, the film is as fragmented in quality as it is tone: half the time, it’s absolutely incredible.  And the other half, it’s merely serviceable.  But if you’re like me and love the original film, there’s certainly enough here to make this one a must-watch…you just have to power through a lot of tediousness to get there.

Loose Ends:

  • Another major complaint I had about the film: throughout the whole thing we’re supposed to believe that Rama is doing undercover police work to expose corruption within the law enforcement, but we never actually see him do any investigating, nor is it inferred that he had been trying!  It’s like he forgot what his mission was or something.  Perhaps the worst presented “undercover cop” storyline ever.
  • The aforementioned familiar face confused the hell out of me, just because me and my friends all thought he was playing the character he played in the original film, who very much died in one of that one’s best action scenes.  Suffice to say, I was confused about his reappearance.
  • I’ll say this about the non-action scenes: even if they are boring to pay attention to, man are they beautiful to look at.  Evans and his cinematographers really stepped up their game here.
  • Speaking of Evans though, he is credited as the sole editor of this film.  A good example of when it might be best to step back a bit and let someone else decide what does and does not need to be a part of the film.  Just saying.
  • The saddest thing about The Raid 2’s bloated length is the fact that, after getting through the whole thing, I sadly couldn’t imagine myself doing it again.  Maybe watching the highway or kitchen scene again on Youtube or something, but seeing the entire film from start to finish?  Not sure I have it in me.  That’s a far cry from the original film, which I will re-watch at the drop of a hat.
  • The sequence in which we are introduced to Hammer Girl, Bat Boy, and Knives Dude (as they are hear by none) was incredible, and one of the few highlights of the film pre-highway chase.  Also, Hammer Girl is my spirit animal.  That is all.