I’m pretty sure that in the span of a week, I saw the best two action movies of 2014, though they are completely different types of films. Like John Woo on methamphetamines, The Raid 2 is a film that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. It is grimy. It is wincingly painful. But it is also a rocket-powered Falcon Punch to the groin. The closest thing I can think of to it is John Woo’s Hong Kong masterpieces like The Killer and Hard Boiled, which were undoubtedly inspirations for the series, but it reaches beyond the balletic “gun fu” that captured the heart of many a nerd in the 90s and sucked them into the Asian cinema appreciation society.
I’ve never seen a movie like The Raid 2, and that includes The Raid. One way to explain it would be to say that it is the most hard-edged film I’ve ever seen, with gore to rival any horror film that has crossed my path with the possible exception of Dead Alive. Frankly there are scenes in the film that made me surprised it was able to secure an R rating. And one particular bit at the end that I couldn’t believe hadn’t tied an NC-17 anchor around its neck. If the remake of Evil Dead broke the ratings system, as one reviewer suggested, The Raid 2 may have cremated it. Another way to say it would be JESUS H. [BLEEP]ING CHRIST PLAYING CENTER FOR THE CHICAGO BULLS, DID I JUST SEE THAT? I don’t think I’ve ever had quite the physical/visceral reaction to a film that I had with this one. Multiple times, I found myself cringing, swearing, laughing at the sheer audacity of Gareth Evans and, in many cases, staring ahead with eyes wide and maw agape.
The sequel to Evans’ calling card film, this is a very different animal. True, it shares the penchant for unflinching violence and incredibly well-choreographed fight scenes. However, Raid 2 has a very different MO. Technically there may be a ‘raid’ or two, but it is not at all structured like the very self-contained first movie. 99% of The Raid took place in one rundown tenement building over the span of a day and was largely a fight for survival.
The sequel picks up more or less where that film left off, but it removes all limitations. It takes place over years and expands its scope to cover a wide and varied urban landscape under the control of gangs and cartels. This time our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) is delving into an undercover operation under the manipulative thumbscrews of internal affairs to root out corrupt cops at great risk of life and limb. Eventually, he finds himself befriending what appears to be the Asian Patrick Wilson to get into a gang which has been procuring the services of many crooked officers.
In the midst of this are plenty of opportunities for bloodshed and Evans does not miss a one. By the time Order 66 is given*, the film abandons all pretexts and becomes a pure adrenaline hit. Trust me when I say, you are not ready for Hammer Girl and Bat Boy. You can’t handle them. They feel like they come from a completely different film. And they are glorious.
When I’ve heard people describe Evans as the best action filmmaker working today, I can’t help but feel it’s not just for the inventiveness that he displays in his set pieces. No, a large portion of it is due to simply how these beautifully choreographed blood-lettings are filmed. The editing and staging are off the charts good. Unlike many titles, ones from Hollywood especially, the film is not a random assortment of quick cuts meant to give the illusion of a fight while really showing a jumbled mess of punches and kicks. No, this film’s continuity during the kung-fu battles and shootouts is among the best I’ve ever seen. You always have a sense of where these characters are geographically and you can follow the action better than in almost any modern film involving martial arts I can think of. I’m sure a lot if it is a simple matter of confidence. The Raid 2 is an insanely confident film for Evans. His voice is crystal clear. It also shows a marked improvement in these arenas over the first film, already no slouch considering it had been called one of the best action films ever made by many people. The cinema verite style is still present, but it’s not wildly overdone this time. The urgency is still there, but not at the expense of the story and composition. Along with the new type of story being told, I’m wondering if the decision to go widescreen might have something to do with the changes in the aesthetics. It simply feels more solid.
The Raid 2 is a superb film in a genre that deserves better than saggy stars picking up paychecks and lousy editing. It most definitely is not for everybody. There are a lot of viewers that this film is not for in any shape, matter or form. But for me and people like me who thrive on fantasy violence and bold moves in filmmaking, it is one of the best releases of the year.
(Five damns given out of five)
*Yes, I just made a Revenge of the Sith reference. Deal with it.