The super-bloody and brutal violence is extensive, glorious, and exhilarating. Sadly, the length and complex story drag the movie down.
The vast bulk of American action films these days seem to be fantasy films that are rated PG-13. Sure, a lot of these friendly mainstream, teen-ready thrillers can be pretty exhilarating, but you have to admit that there is a definite lack of grit to many of them. When a superhero rams his fist into someone’s face, for instance, or a dwarf swipes a sword across someone’s chest (the single most common kill move in all films and TV shows featuring swords), it’s always diluted by a camera angle, a lack of blood, and a strange cleanliness. There is, however, a seething, gleeful gorehound inside all of us that secretly longs for more. It’s one thing to see someone die in battle; It’s quite another to watch arterial spray decorate our ultra-violent hero’s face and neck with a delightfully primal shade of crimson.
So it’s no wonder that films like Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption become enormous cult hits in America. Most of their American counterparts simply aren’t providing the balls-to-the-wall, fist-through-the-head violence that so many young males (and maybe a few females) crave, even when the premise is repeated with a bigger budget and a more complex setting (see Dredd). I’m happy to report that The Raid 2 provides every last bit of broken bones, crushed heads, compound fractures, bleeding wounds, and off-the-wall, near-cartoon levels of extreme gore that your heart can possibly desire. Seriously, The Raid 2 is one of the most violent films I’ve seen in a long while. Well, there was that Evil Dead remake. Its amazingly creative violence, paired with its low-fi, foreign origins (the film is Indonesian), give The Raid 2 an honest-to-goodness grindhouse feeling. This is the kind of film that would play better at a drive-in movie theater, or consumed surreptitiously en masse at a pizza-fueled sleepover after your parents have gone to bed.
But is the gore and violence enough to sustain it? Sadly, I don’t think so. Ultimately, this film collapses under its own weight, offering far too much for the average constitution to handle. The Raid 2 runs way, way too long at a bloated 150 minutes, allowing for extraneous plot threads to enter, stretch their arms, sit around for a while, and leave at a leisurely pace. The film is peppered with pusillanimous and bizarre ancillary characters, a too-long setup, and too much delay before the amazing climax. By the time the final fight begins, most exploitation movies would have been over for 35 minutes.
To catch up: The first The Raid was a closed-box thriller wherein a group of cops fought their way upward through a tower of bad guys to slay a crime master sitting at the top. The premise sounded like a video game at the time, but by all accounts its simplicity worked in its favor. Rama (Iko Uwias) was the central survivor from that film, and, at the outset of the sequel, is tapped to engage in a years-long undercover operation to take down yet another crime lord. He spends several years in prison as part of his cover, and befriends the crime boss’ son, mostly dramatized through an extended, face-smashing mud-pit brawl. Once on the outside, Rama finds that the crime boss’ connections are more extensive and more wicked than he could have imagined. After a visit to an illegal porn ring, strip searches, car chases, hooker parties, corrupt cops, a pair of video-game escapees who kill people with baseballs and hammers (and you’re gonna love those two), and a completely useless subplot about an aged assassin trying to make good with his kid (this plot never directly effect’s Rama’s plotline), we finally get to the final fight, wherein Rama has to fight his way through an entire building of toughs.
But by then, you’ve been crushed into your seat by the extensive exposition and complex plot that seems more and more haphazardly unbound as the film progresses. This is a ludicrously inefficient way to stage an action movie. Action movies need to be tight, taut, lithe. The Raid 2 is loose, unorganized, and top-heavy. What’s more, it’s unbelievably downbeat, smeared with epic emotional pretension and brooding, teary tragedy that betrays any fun you might have. It’s hard to be thrilled when your movie is such a downer.
But if you can shake off the darkness, and wait through the bulk of the film, you’ll find a level of glorious action overkill that we’ve been deprived of. For many, the action will be enough. I would have appreciated The Raid 2 more if it had actually worked as a whole movie.