Film Review: The Raid 2

An ultra-violent sequel that revels in martial-arts murder and mutilation with an enthusiasm that’s as repugnant as its flimsy undercover-cop story is clichéd.

The Raid 2 opens with talk of “ambition” and “limitations”—apt topics, given that this sequel has plenty of both. Writer-director Gareth Evans’ follow-up to his insanely brutal 2011 Indonesian import aims to elevate the series to even loftier heights, drenching its tale in portentous slow-motion tracking shots, zooms and pans that create a mood of momentous import. Alas, such aesthetics—which also include maudlin piano music for its more mournful moments—are merely window-dressing for what amounts to an even gorier saga of hand-to-hand and firearm gruesomeness. A cornucopia of snapped limbs, severed arteries, smashed faces and bullet-riddled bodies that goes on for an absurdly excessive 148 minutes, the film revels in martial-arts ultra-violence with almost juvenile glee, fixating on images of mutilation and murder with an enthusiasm that borders on the sadistic.

Consequently, The Raid 2 proves to be one of the most repugnant spectacles in recent memory, and one made all the more unpleasant by its epic pretensions. Eschewing its predecessor’s videogame-inspired template, in which one rogue cop was forced to make his way through a high-rise populated by increasingly vicious adversaries—a structure that gave its action an escalating, electric momentum—Evans’ sequel merely resorts to turgid police-drama clichés. Having just barely survived his prior ordeal, supercop Rama (Iko Uwais) is sent undercover to nail a corrupt police chief, a mission that requires him to go to prison and befriend Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of a crime boss named Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo) who’s currently enjoying a ten-year truce with rival Japanese boss Mr. Goto (Ken’ichi Endô). Rama accepts the assignment because he wants revenge for the murder of his brother, who was killed by Bejo (Alex Abbad), a crippled schemer trying to start a war between Bangun and Goto.

Dramatically speaking, what follows is formulaic and second-rate, with Rama earning Bangun and Uco’s trust even as his tenuous position in the crime family is threatened by Uco’s insecurity-fueled, power-hungry desire to succeed his father as boss. Yet for all its drawn-out conversational scenes that prolong the material well past a reasonable runtime, The Raid 2 is a thematically empty endeavor. Rama’s quest speaks to nothing because its sole purpose is to provide Evans with opportunities to stage a variety of technically impressive set-pieces—a limited function at which he succeeds, albeit without generating any suspense or excitement.

As before, Uwais’ furious combat skills are an impressive sight, and Evans’ handheld cinematography lucidly captures his star’s physical prowess (as well as that of Yayan Ruhian, the original’s standout villain, here shoehorned into a pointless subplot). Unfortunately, the monotonous procession of vile sights on display quickly turns the film revolting. The Raid 2 seems intent on courting some sort of R-rated fanboy credibility by not flinching when heads are obliterated by shotgun blasts, motorcyclists take rounds of Uzi fire to the helmet (and then fall underneath a speeding car’s wheels), and featureless henchman are bludgeoned, hacked and slashed to pieces by a hoodie-wearing assassin with a baseball bat and a deaf woman wielding claw hammers. Without any purpose except to entertain through endless, extreme cruelty and carnage, the film’s overall effect is to both numb the mind and churn the stomach—as well as to make one feel kinship with those background characters who, caught in the middle of Rama and company’s skirmishes, flee such mayhem in horror.