This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on August 12th.
Functioning as a much needed wake-up call to Hollywood, the first Raid released in 2011, sent a clear message to the world screaming “This is how fight scenes are done!”. The deliver of this message was a virtual unknown from Wales, Gareth Evans – and Evans really knows how to put together action in a way like you’ve never seen before.
Keen to avoid sequelitis and diminishing returns, The Raid 2 heads in a drastically different direction than its predecessor in terms of both plot and scope. This time, the video-game structure of the first film, moving from floor to floor, clearing it of bad guys until you reach the final boss, is replaced with a Departed style sprawling epic as the protagonist Rama infiltrates the criminal underworld as an undercover cop. The run-time is also stretched considerably. The fights come far more periodically than the previous opus, but they still offer for satisfying viewing. Whilst some of the intensity and tightness is lost in this transition to a wider canvas, Evan’s handling of the in-between-the-action sequences is still strong and it’s good to see he had ambition for his follow up and didn’t decide to simply rest on what worked previously.
The director’s brilliant understanding of the mechanics of film and of how to use cinema language to stage mind-blowing fight sequences is refreshing to see in the genre. What’s most impressive about Evans’ direction is that he refuses to cut corners or deceive his viewers. Everything is put on display to behold, Evans has the confidence to know that his audience will be mesmerised by it. There is a distinct lack of shaky cam. The editing, done by Evans himself, strikes a perfect balance; it’s frenetic, fast and punchy but it knows when to hold long enough to allow things to be coherent. A clear and detailed sound mix also allows us to hear every body squelch and feel every cracked bone. It’s clear that Evans has taken an active role in creating his fight scenes, rather than leaving it all up to a second unit somewhere. The director also deserves credit for keeping his direction, especially his camerawork, mostly invisible so that it doesn’t detract from the on-screen spectacle.
Even though the fights are frequent occurrences, each one has its own distinct identity and plays out slightly differently so that things never get stale. Where the first film followed a repeated pattern (corridor fights and one-on-one duels) the sequel mixes things up a bit. The film has a scrambling prison yard brawl, a defiant last stand in a night club and even a scrap in the back seat of a moving car. There is much more variety offered this time. Not only that but each sequence is sufficiently jaw dropping. A car chase in the final act in particular raised the bar astronomically for the year’s upcoming blockbusters, whilst the final showdown leaves you exhausted just watching it unfold.
Stylistically The Raid 2 is also something of a departure from the first film, which had a more stripped down and gritty aesthetic. The sequel, arriving with loftier expectations, dresses itself up a bit more glamorously. There is a more expressive use of colour, contrasting the first film’s monochrome look and the characters are more heightened and iconic. There is also the occasional experimental moment; a Godfather-esque series of assassinations for instance, is cut in an unconventional, but masterful way.
With the threat of an American remake becoming a far too tangible possibility, it’s easy to admire just how well constructed The Raid 2 is. It doesn’t need remaking, it should be accessible to any culture. Surely if any film transcends a language barrier it’s this, with its universal language of ass-kicking. For anyone who cares about the quality of action cinema The Raid 2 is an essential purchase.
Going Blu-ray is recommended as you’ll want to be able to catch every frame and every move in perfect definition. Moreover you’ll have access to far more extras than those who opt for DVD, the various featurettes are very revealing, showing the inventive ways certain logistical nightmares were handled (the camera move between cars travelling at high speeds is especially impressive) and the single deleted scene is that special rarity when it comes to cut material: actually worth watching.
The Raid 2 (2014), directed by Gareth Evans, is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK by Entertainment One, Certificate 18. Watch the trailer below: