The notion of 'bigger is better' is an old one when it comes to film-making and particularly when it comes to sequels. The Raid was as lean as they come, a film set entirely in one location and with a scant plot on which to hang a series of impressive fight sequences. Whilst character beats, particularly with Rama (the surely soon to be international action superstar Iko Uwais) and brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah), were well-handled, they aren't the bits that everyone talks about when they talk about The Raid. It's the door kill, or the drugs lab fight, or the stunning silhouette shot on the staircase before all hell breaks loose. To go bigger from there is the next logical step, zooming out from the microcosmic workings of the tower block to the wider criminal underworld in which it belongs.
Picking up just a couple of hours after the climax of the first film, The Raid 2 finds Rama tasked with an undercover mission to root out the corrupt cops within the Jakarta police force. He quickly befriends Uco (a scene-stealing Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), the head of the biggest crime family in Jakarta who has ruled for years in a truce with the Goto crime family from Japan. However, the uneasy peace is threatened by shadowy background dealings and Rama finds himself involved more and more until he realises he must fight his way out.
With a longer run-time, Evans allows the story to breathe in a way that the claustrophobic location of The Raid couldn't and the sequel is much stronger for it. For all of the violence and technical bravado, this is a film about the importance of family and not losing touch with yourself or your loved ones. Time is taken to establish family dynamics, relationship histories and character motivations to almost Shakespearian levels (Uco is a potent combination of Hal and Hotspur whilst Bangun displays all the world-weariness of a Henry IV). Even characters such as Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) have a clear and tangible history to them. It may be simple character-based work (too often forgotten in the action genre), but it serves to enhance the film beyond just its action sequences and as it builds towards its climactic showdown, the emotional resonance deepens and the fights become that bit more involving.
Once again, the action sequences are going to be the bits that everyone will talk about when it comes to the film. Thankfully, the fight choreography is superb, each fight as unique and as unpredictable as the next, whether they're set in a prison yard or in the inside of a car. Evans' kinetic camera work is perfectly pitched, sweeping with the performers as they crash through their fight sequences, close enough to retain the immediacy of The Raid, but also with enough sense of when to hold back and let the punches speak for themselves. It is endlessly inventive; you watch from camera angles you never thought possible. The larger cityscape also gives Evans a broader canvas to paint red and each location is utilised well to keep the action fresh, be it a subway train or a swanky nightclub.
The brutality of the images are enhanced greatly by the film's soundscape; hits are felt with shuddering thuds, weapons carry their own unique soundtrack (Baseball Bat Man is more often heard before he is seen) and bodies hit walls with wince-inducing decibel levels. The music, scored by Fajar Yuskemal, Aria Prayogi and Joseph Trapanese, underpins the building tension well without threatening to overwhelm the action. However, Evans' real skill is knowing when to pull all of this back. Often, the film's quieter moments are its most powerful; it's the sense you get at the back of your neck when the music stops or a character composes themselves and the film develop its own rhythm of ebbs and flows to which you quickly become accustomed.
There's a keen understanding here of the importance of the calm before the storm and the quiet that descends after it, even if it is just to allow the audience to breathe for a second (trust me, you'll need it). It's also in these quieter moments that the performances shine. Uwais is given more emotional work for Rama here and rises to the challenge admirably, retaining his quiet charisma and giving you an admirable hero to root for. Putra's Uco is an electric presence, all pent-up rage and swagger, whilst Yayan Ruhian gives a tragic performance as Prakoso and gets a fantastic fight sequence all to himself.
In a movie industry saturated with sequels and franchises, it is not only refreshing to see a sequel that more than lives up to the hype of the first film, but one that is brave enough to take risks, to expand and to explore a new story. The Raid 2 is something really quite exhilarating.
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