Gareth Evans made a major impression with his 2012 breakout hit The Raid, a film that positioned him as the most exciting action movie director working today, single-handedly reviving the martial arts genre for the mainstream cinema audience. For the sequel, the unimaginatively titled The Raid 2, he aims to develop the world he hinted at in the first, with corrupt politicians, crooked cops and endless armies of thugs all added to make this narratively more ambitious than the first outing. Sadly, the film doesn’t equal the sum of those ambitious parts, and it results in my first major cinematic disappointment of 2014.
Iko Uwais returns as Rama, who is now being sent undercover to gather evidence on corruption in the police force, which indirectly resulted in the death of his brother in the first film. After a swift goodbye to his family, he’s whisked away to prison where his operation begins. The narrative is more complex than the original (by which I mean there actually IS one this time around) but this works to the film’s detriment; the characters only serve the purpose of human punching bags in fight scenes, and no overarching narrative can make them worth caring about. Without interesting characters, you’re left waiting for the action set pieces, which aren’t as frequent as the original due to the inarguably overlong two and a half hour running time.
On the positive side, the action sequences in this film are far more accomplished than anything in the original; in fact many instantly rank alongside the best I’ve ever seen. The introduction to a character called “hammer girl” (take a wild guess why) in a kinetic tube train sequence is thrilling, if irrelevant to the plot as a whole. There is a recurring theme of irrelevant characters being introduced only to be dispatched a few scenes later- if it wasn’t for all the dumb-founded attempts to get us interested in such disposable characters the film probably wouldn’t be feature length, let alone two and a half hours.
But it really is Uwais, who deserves to be this century’s first big martial arts movie star, who gets the best of the sequences. His opening fight sequence in the prison doesn’t disappoint following the most intense build-up to any battle I’ve seen in movies recently, but it’s the penultimate battle sequence in a kitchen that makes the whole film worthwhile. With an epic score that compliments the scene in a way few movie scores manage to (the weak point of the first film was the dubstep score, which thankfully isn’t replicated here), a standard one-on-one fight is edited in a frenetic way that makes it the standout action set piece of the century so far- to say any more would ruin the sheer thrill.
But it still doesn’t detract from the films main problem; the uninteresting narrative. A martial arts movie is the only genre where narrative isn’t necessary, and although it’s welcome for Evans to attempt to overturn this basic genre requirement, it results are forgettable and even slightly boring. I usually think that complaining about a film’s length is an invalid criticism, but in this case it’s not so much The Raid 2 as The Raid: 2 Long.
The disappointment of the film doesn’t work to Evans’ detriment – he is still the best action director working today. It’s just a shame he didn’t stick wholly on the carnage this time round.