Sensational The Raid 2 begins almost immediately after 2012’s The Raid, but that’s where the resemblance ends. The first picture, a perfectly acceptable Indonesian actioner—an orgiastic ballet of bullets, bodies and martial arts involving a pair of agile Jakarta SWAT cops laying waste to the denizens of an apartment complex commandeered by drug traffickers—was a scrappy and efficient B-movie that delivered nonstop action. No complaints there.
But The Raid 2 is something (almost) entirely different—bigger, badder and better, a mob picture harkening back to The Godfather in its world of crime, loyalty and betrayal. Again directed by the endlessly innovative Welshman Gareth Evans and starring extraordinary martial artist Iko Uwais as Rama, formerly SWAT but now gone deep cover to infiltrate a powerful mob family, Edwards hands us a first-class gangster epic shot in gorgeous widescreen and a nearly 2.5 hour running time. It’s absorbing, exciting and surprising, with real intrigue in its mob machinations, including a cadre of new, nefarious enemies, classical themes of ambition, family loyalty and treachery, and, of course, a lot of stupendously imaged action sequences. This is one great mob movie and the action sequences are nearly unparalleled in recent memory.
As it turns out, the drug lord eliminated in the first film was but a mid-level henchman for the real target, the Jakarta underbelly’s organized crime syndicate. The new picture kicks off with wounded crime fighter Rama immediately—just two hours later—tasked with a much larger assignment, to secretly infiltrate and bring down the mob and the corrupt cops in their network. Fearing for the safety of his wife and young son, Rama is initially reticent, but their protection guaranteed he reluctantly agrees.
Rama is quickly sent to prison with an undercover mission to befriend Uco (handsome, simmering Arfin Putra), the aspirant, loose cannon son of legendary Jakarta mob kingpin Bangun, whose old-world attitudes clash with his upstart son’s impatience. After saving Ucok’s life in a most accomplished action sequence set in the muck of a prison yard, Rama is soon sprung from jail. What was initially promised to be a short-term assignment becomes a much longer two years, as gains Bangun’s trust, eventually entwined with both father and son, whose own cork is about to burst. The closer Rama gets, the more he sees and the harder it is to get out—classic mob picture tropes in a movie that keeps topping itself in a sustained delirium of visual invention and energy.
In the film’s second half a mob war of sorts breaks out, Rama in the middle and an upstart gangster (Alex Abbad) on the rise. With the film’s larger scale comes a broader canvas of characters, including two hardboiled assassins who speak little, but rather fight with uncommon ferocity. The first is a silent femme fatale (Julie Estelle) in sunglasses with a mean grip on a dual claw hammers, and the second a punkish youth in a hoodie (Very Tri Yulisman) whose aluminum baseball bat is like an iron fist.
There are sleazy porn purveyors, prostitutes, rival gang families and reversals galore and Edwards, an expert at building sequences, finds inventive places to hide his camera. During one shake-up involving an underground porn operation, a kingpin is thrown through a window, and the camera is placed on the floor beneath him, upside down, moving as he moves. But later, during a scene of execution Evans wisely keeps the camera trained on the reaction of the triggerman.
There are skillfully built sequences throughout that are so superbly choreographed, shot, edited and scored that they set some kind of new benchmark for action, including a manic car chase and a seven plus minute final mano-a-mano where the actors are stretched to their physical limits. Martial arts star Uwais, a petite, stoic and lightning quick fighter, again brings his own choreography to the movie and the impact of that portion of his performance shouldn’t be underestimated. But he also gets to show a few more personal shades than in the original film, capably acquitting himself in the drama.
It isn’t hyperbole to say that The Raid 2 is one of the most exceedingly innovate, skillfully choreographed action movies ever made. It is also an absorbing and smart mafia family saga.
Pure cinema, and to date 2014’s most entertaining film.