blank'/> Cinema Reviews: The Raid 2: Gruesomely Satisfying

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Raid 2: Gruesomely Satisfying

Believe the hype. This is pretty amazing action wise.

My passion for action films remains in my teenage years when I tried to expose myself to as many Jackie Chan, Tsui Hark, Jet Li and John Woo films as possible. I have fond memories of Armour of God 2, The Once Upon a Time in China series, The Killer and Hard Boiled. All were excellent but, by and large, I've moved on from martial arts films. I just don't feel the need to seek them out anymore.

Having said that, every now and then I'll grab an action film to satiate my blood lust and watch the kinetic ballet on display. The Raid 2 does not disappoint.

If I had one complaint it's that the story and concept of this film isn't as original as the first: a police raid on a block of units run by criminals was fresh and inventive for the action genre (Or at least I can't think of too many) Berandal follows the more conventional Japanese Yakuza film, with gang rivalries and machinations for power over territories, with the returning lead Rama thrown into the mix as an undercover cop trying to ensnare them all.

The actors, it has to be said, are universally solid. I sometimes felt that perhaps they had been studying the performances of Yakuza films a little too much, but there is no showy or over the top acting present.

The sheer brutality and bloodletting on display here is quite impressive. Shoulders are blown apart by pump action shotguns, faces caved in by baseball bats, claw hammers wrenched from people's necks. When the action sequences are on, it's a free for all, but with the same grit and realism of the first film.

We love this shit, people. Human beings crave violence and gore. It's the same impulse which drives the love of sports, the same impulse that drew us to the Colosseum. The sooner we admit to that the easier it may be one day to accept our sexual impulses and not treat sexuality with the level of ridiculous shame and awkwardness that is prevalent today. The fact that violence in the human psyche IS more easily embraced than sexuality is a prime reason for our lack of advancement as a species.

In nearly every way this film steps up the action from the first film; in terms of framing the action and in execution there is much more ambition here. The build up to another signature close quarters fight scene in a prison toilet is fantastic, with a slow push in on the door as a barrage of inmates outside swarm against it, trying to reach the waiting Rama within. There is clearly a section where digital morphing has been used to link shots that start outside a car, move through it and then back onto the road again (ala "Irreversible"). And yes, Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) is a great new addition, her sequence in a train carriage with double handed hammer play being gruesomely awesome.

One thing though, why is director Gareth Evans so obsessed with killing off his most iconic characters? Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man both get finished off, and he brings back MadDog (Yayan Ruhian, admittedly in a different role - but that wasn't obvious to me; it was still MadDog but with unruly bum hair as far as I was could tell) only to kill him off as well. I didn't think MadDog had been conclusively finished off in the first film, and if you are going to bring him back, wouldn't it have been more interesting to have him fight for Uco's Father (Following Uco's efforts to kill him in a night club) and then later confront Rama again? Anyway, as it is MadDog is brought back, made to look sympathetic in a scene with his estranged wife and then killed off a few minutes later, with little or no impact on the story. It's pretty obvious Evans just wanted to bring the actor back to play.

Another thing Evans seems set on doing is making the characters more human and sympathetic, we have the MadDog/Wife scene and a lengthier scene (compared to the first film) of Rama saying goodbye to his wife before going undercover. Not to mention Uco's torment after he murders his Father and the undercover cop gone rouge who saves Rama's life. Is this a reaction to comments about the first film's brutality and thin characterizations? An attempt to beef up the characters with conflict and torn allegiances? Or maybe to leaven, justify or contrast the brutal violence? In any case Evans seems at pains to give the story more substance this time around.

It's an interesting touch, but in the end, do we really care? I think most fans of the series just want to see the carnage and amazing martial arts, and there's no taking the edge off hammer time, no matter how you might try to soften the blows.

I for one enjoyed The Raid 2, possibly even more than the original. It is what it is; brutality and excess, brilliant choreography and some great stylistic touches from Evans. It is certainly better than most action fare out there and infinitely better than anything the laboring Fast and Furious franchise can cough up.

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