There’s a scene late in Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2, in which two warriors, mangled and blood-soaked from fighting in a nightclub’s kitchen, pause between blows to catch their breath – the mutual respect of the warrior’s code in full effect – and you realize you’ve been holding yours the entire time. That Evans can sustain that tension, after already dragging you through two hours of mayhem and carnage, is a testament to his skills as a director and editor. The Raid 2 swims in glorious ultraviolence, with an emphasis on the hypnotic, brutal choreography of the Indonesian fighting style of pencak silat. It both builds on and blows away what he did with the previous entry to this conceived trilogy, The Raid: Redemption.
Those familiar with that first film, in which Rama (Uwais), a rookie cop, accompanies a SWAT team as they infiltrate a criminal-infested building in order to get to the top floor to take out a mob boss (things go, um, badly for them), will notice that only a couple of hours have passed since those events. And in the first 10 minutes, Evans cuts all the loose threads from that film and starts anew: Rama is now tasked with going deep undercover, cozying up to another, more powerful crime lord, Bangun (Pakusadewo), in order to weed out the police corruption that is so endemic in movies like this. In order to do so, he must befriend Bangun’s son, Uco (Putra), who’s serving time in prison. So off Rama goes, after kissing his wife and child goodbye, to meet-cute with Uco in the prison cafeteria. They bond after a sloppy, mud-drenched prison yard fight, and soon enough, they are released, and Rama starts his proper infiltration of the crime family. What plot that follows is a series of reveals and reversals that borrow liberally from Hong Kong action films (Infernal Affairs, in particular), but really, all that is secondary to the film’s endlessly inventive action set-pieces, which are kinetically shot and meticulously paced like mini three-act operas. Freed of the confines of the building from the first film, Evans’ vision explodes into the streets, warehouses, and noodle bars of Jakarta, each encounter with rival thugs more frenzied than the last, the camera fluidly capturing every punch, stab, and impalement while swooping to and fro – always precise and never disorienting.
With three features under his belt, Evans has proven to be a virtuoso of filming martial arts, staging epic, original scenarios while never pulling a punch. The Raid 2 doesn’t so much raise the bar for action filmmaking as it pummels that bar into a mangled piece of metal that resembles nothing if not the gauntlet that’s been thrown down here. Just don’t forget to breathe.
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