The first film in The Raid series was something akin to getting adrenaline shot directly into heart. Just pure non-stop action including guns, gore, as well as some of the most hard-hitting and spectacular martial arts ever filmed. It was the best action film of the new century and it seemed like nothing would ever top it… then The Raid 2 came along and slapped that title away. But in all seriousness, Goddamn is it relentless! The Raid 2 takes the ultra violent action of the first film weaves it into this cool crime drama in order to create a stylized epic that would have made Bruce Lee and Jean-Pierre Melville proud.
The most polarizing bit about The Raid 2 is the plot because it is very simple for a two and half hour film. The Raid 2 takes place moments after the first film where our hero Rama, noble rookie cop/martial arts savant, is ordered to infiltrate a national crime syndicate and kicks ass^2 until it all burns down. The plot is not much different from some of John Woo’s films but it transcends that crutch with very intense, expressive, and diverse visual style. The film has a surprisingly sharp-dressed sense of cool, similar to films like La Samourai and Drive, but with the violence of said films being brought to the forefront instead simmer underneath its atmosphere.
Many of the major plot points in the film are emphasized through the use of huge fight sequences. For example, when a crime lord hires an assassin, instead of following it with a sneaky kill, it cuts to a fight sequence between the assassin and a dozen targets on the streets. Anyone looking solely for story will think the fight sequences are excessive, which is like complaining that Singin’ in the Rain has too many well-executed songs. Unlike The Raid, where the premise is admittedly an excuse for fighting, The Raid 2 instead uses violence as a way to enhance the plot. Many characters in the story talk about ambition and “reaching beyond one’s limits” which, in the crime world, means killing off the competition, cops and et cetera. The martial arts, while amazing in its own right, becomes rather poetic by provide a very literal parallel to this theme of ambition.
The Raid 2 is ultimately a lot more of the original film plus some things that were never expected from a martial arts film. The fight scenes are amazing as usual but it is pleasant surprise to see the action serve the plot and not the other way around. It borrows stylistic ideas from a huge assortment of films in such a manner that it becomes a unique salad of a film. If anything the biggest flaw of The Raid 2 is that the way it expands from the first films and experiments tone and pacing may just make it even more alienating for most people. It is easily the most violent, ambitious and daring action film of the year, which is what most aficionados would expect from this series, but whether this will appeal to anyone else is difficult to say. Nevertheless, as a pure action film, The Raid 2 exceeds the high as heaven expectations laid by its predecessor with an identity that is clearly its own.
(The Raid 2 is available on Blu-ray and DVD)