Film Review: The Raid 2

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Plot: After the events of the raid in Jakarta, Rama (Iko Uwais) is tasked with infiltrating the Bangun gang in order to take down corruption in the police force. Undercover, Rama gets entangled in gang warfare, and Uco’s (Arifin Putra) mad quest to prove himself to his father, Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo).

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a movie where the last twenty minutes turned me so drastically. The Raid 2 is a convoluted, repetitive, cartoon mess. What made the original film back in 2011 so awesome was its simplicity – a SWAT team goes in unprepared to a crime ridden building, and get their asses handed to them, while the martial arts version of John McClain singlehandedly tears through the place floor by floor. It’s fantastic. The first half of this movie is anything by simple. Maybe the subtitles were going too fast, but I was totally lost on who was who, what side people were on, and couldn’t get a grasp on the story whatsoever. But as the later half kicks into high gear, plot elements started to come together in a more cohesive fashion. It’s not until that third act though where The Raid 2 makes your heart burst out of your chest, but we’ll get there.

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Even though Tama was killed, everything went to shit in the Jakarta raid. Impressed with Rama’s skills and tactics, Bunawar (Cok Simbara) asks Rama to infiltrate a major criminal organization in order to take down corruption from all sides. Rama is reluctant at first, but when the repercussions from the previous film are finally played out, Rama has no choice but to take the assignment, and protect his family. Iko Uwais gives another great, yet subtle performance as Rama. It’s all in the face, as you feel his pain perfectly. He doesn’t want to be doing this, but it’s the only way to protect his family. You barely see his wife and kid, but there’s one scene where Rama listens to his child on the phone, and it’s all you need to sympathize with this guy. The problem is I felt like Rama was barely in this film.

There are so many characters in this movie, and thirty minutes in, I had no idea what the hell was going on. There’s a very drawn out sequence of Rama in prison that wasn’t the least bit interesting. Once he gets out and aligns with Bangun and his son Uco, the plot finally begins. Uco is one of the primary antagonists, and Arifin Putra does a good job of portraying the son who’s desperately seeking approval from his father. It’s a tired theme, but if done right, usually works. Uco is basically the Sonny Corleone of the Bangun gang, always wanting to strike. While Uco was a compelling character, much like Rama, there wasn’t enough service done early on with the character, because the film jerks you around so much.

There are so many other rival gangs, and henchmen, and sublevel henchmen, it becomes mind numbingly frustrating. One character in particular was a pseudo homeless guy who plays a pivotal role in the story, but he completely comes out of no where. It’s elements like this which overshadow the powerful character arcs of Rama and Uco.

Aside from the over complicated plot, the violence must be addressed. Wow. I usually don’t complain about violence in movies, I really don’t. I’ve never had an issue with any of the Quentin Tarantino films that I’ve seen. If the violence is used to serve a purpose, and done well on a technical level, I’m fine with it. This is one of those times I’m going to play the “gratuitous violence” card. What made the first film so great is that while the violence and fights were exaggerated, they felt real enough, making them harsh and brutal. In this sequel, they go completely Looney Tunes with it. Not only is the violence more cartoonish, but there are blatant times where the characters get extra punches in for absolutely no reason, whereas the first film didn’t do that at all. There were multiple times where the audience laughed at the nature of the violence, and to me, that’s a failure of the movie, because it wasn’t their intention.

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Now after all my kvetching, there comes a point where the movie transforms into something glorious. The last third becomes a lot more focused on the characters we care about, specifically Rama and Uco, so I was more emotionally invested. But as over the top and unnecessary as the violence was early on, the last act delivers some of the most incredible fight sequences I’ve ever seen. There’s one Rama has with two assassins that might as well be Double Dragon video game bosses, but it was still breathtaking.

This would have been good enough for the climax, but there’s another fight afterwards that cannot be described in words. Aside from a few lightsaber duels in Star Wars, and the rotating hallway fight in Inception, this is probably the greatest fight scene ever in a motion picture. I was visibly shaking as this sequence played out. If The Raid 2 is playing at a theater near you, I’m solely recommending the film based on this one fight scene. I’m still thinking about it. I can’t help but scoff at the notion that the fights in Captain America: The Winter Soldier are some of the best ever done. No. The Raid 2 makes those fights look like a round of “Slappers Only” from Goldeneye Nintendo 64. You might say to yourself, “Dan, stop hyping this fight, for crying out loud.” I promise you – it cannot be hyped enough.

At 2.5 hours, The Raid 2 is painfully overly long, making the original film superior on a structural level. The film has a strong score, and some great character moments, but too often they are drowned out by the muddled nature of the story. If this movie lost 45 minutes to an hour, this could have been something special. It’s that last third though that makes this film a worthwhile endeavor for the theater, and I may even like it a lot more a second time around. Oh yeah, and there’s a really good fight scene at the end, if I haven’t mentioned it already.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.