The Raid 2 | B
Sometimes enough is enough. While no one can deny that writer-director-editor Gareth Evans pushes the envelope of what is possible in an action scene, there is such a thing as overkill. By the time you emerge from The Raid 2’s mind-boggling, show-stopping and utterly exhausting succession of brawls, gun battles, car chases and martial arts showdowns, you’ll feel as bruised and battered as Iko Uwais’ inexpressive character Rama.
With enough action set pieces to fill three movies, Evans presents a master class in brutality where kinetic violence is contorted and elevated into jaw-dropping instances of abstract art. Though you’ll need a high tolerance for twisted bodily carnage (heads splatter, throats are slit and spurt, eyes are gouged), The Raid 2 offers up spectacular action sequences, each executed with a virtuosity that challenges Hollywood to catch up. The fact that the production cost less than $10 million either speaks for Evans’ boundless talent for capturing elaborate fight stunts or the Indonesian film industry’s complete disregard for safety and fair compensation.
There’s a bone-crunching prison riot where convicts kick, pound and stab at each other during a torrential downpour, becoming a writhing mass of mud and blood. There’s a pair of claustrophobic hand-to-hand battles — one in a bathroom stall, the other in a moving sedan — in which Rama snaps limbs and crushes faces with cruel efficiency. There’s a frantic nightclub showdown between a hit man (fight choreographer Yayan Ruhian) who’s outlived his usefulness, and a legion of attackers. There’s an exhilarating fist and shotgun battle that speeds, grinds and crashes through the heavy traffic of Jakarta. There’s a baseball bat-wielding assassin who targets his victims as if he were Babe Ruth signaling a home run, and his deaf sister, who uses claw hammers for weapons. It’s all capped by what seems to be a 15-minute face-off between Rama and a sickle-wielding killer (Cecep Arif Rahman) in an industrial kitchen.
Each sequence, taken on its own, could be regarded as a high-water mark in action filmmaking. Evans turns the destruction of bodies and properties into a punishing, pulse-pounding blur of sound and movement, giving each a striking visual scheme and breathless pace. Together, this two-and-a-half hour ode to human destruction drains rather than elates, testing the limits of what can be considered entertaining.
Notice how I’ve made no mention of the story? It’s because it amounts to nothing: Dull, exposition-heavy, and filled with confused subplots, Evans’ scripting is abysmally convoluted and ineffectual. In a nutshell, the idealistic Rama, having survived the apartment complex assault of The Raid, is sent undercover into a prison for two years, where he earns the trust of the son of a crime boss. This puts him between warring factions of gangsters and corrupt cops, an incomprehensible dance of death, betrayal and deceit. Whenever there’s a lull in the action, The Raid 2 desperately tries to explain what’s going on and still you’ll have no idea what’s going on. Nor will you care. The characters that stand out most are merely video game-style adversaries, another boss for blank-faced Rama to take down as he fights his way to the finale.
This failure to dramatically or thematically engage is what robs The Raid 2’s bravura action of any personal investment or stakes. We can marvel at the visceral impact of Evans’ sound and fury, but in the end it’s in service of story that’s as disposable as the scores of anonymous thugs that are beaten, shot, twisted and mangled.
The Raid 2 opens Friday, April 11. It’s rated R and has a running time of 2 throat-slitting hours and 28 bone-shattering minutes.