Empty Balcony: The Raid 2

Despite how much I liked The Raid, my review of the film ended up being a little thin. That’s because, while there was much to recommend, the film was overwhelmed by its violence. It took all the hard work that went into the sets, the music, the costumes, even the acting of the leads, and rendered it subservient to the majesty of the violence. As it turns out, that’s because the only thing to survive writer/director Gareth Evans sprawling vision of crime, police corruption, and kickass martial arts, was the violence, owing to a budget that precluded any grand scope. The success of The Raid opened the taps more for the follow-up, and allowed Evans to explore in-depth themes that were forced to remain on the periphery in the first film.

In The Raid 2, from 2014, Evans returns to both writing and directing duties, and his star, Iko Uwais, returns as Rama, the beleaguered and incorruptible police officer.

Events pick up soon after the failed raid on the apartment building from the previous film. Rama, after a bit of personal tragedy makes him amenable, is recruited to infiltrate an organized crime gang run by Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). In order to gain the gang’s trust, Rama has to go to prison and befriend Bangun’s son, Uco (Arifin Putra). He does so, meanwhile providing us viewers with a number of violent and exhausting martial arts sequences.

Early on Evans makes clear that it isn’t just the plot that’s bigger in this film. The fights feature greater numbers and increased ferocity, as well. That could have been a bad thing. After all, The Matrix Reloaded proved that movie fights could turn into clown shows if a filmmaker adds numbers without thought to much else. This film is still full of engaging and entertaining choreography in the Pencak Silat fighting style of Indonesia. A viewer will need to bring along a stronger stomach for this film, though. Besides punches, kicks, and bruising, one will need to endure broken limbs, knife wounds, hammer wounds, bludgeoning by baseball bat, close range shotgun blasts, and at least one instance of a poor soul having his jaw ripped off. It could have been toned down a touch and still kept its punch.

Between the grisly deaths the plot marches along. We meet Bejo (Alex Abbad) and Goto (Kenichi Endo), two rival crime lords. That means that, unlike so many other gangster films, there are three rival gangs in this film, as opposed to the normal two. And then, right when a viewer might be getting a handle on all the twists and turns, Evans throws Yayan Ruhian at us. Those familiar with the first film will remember that he had a star turn as the enforcer Mad Dog. That character died in spectacular and bloody fashion, but Ruhian was just too delectable not to bring back, so Evans shoehorns him into the plot as a 2nd act MacGuffin of sorts. The important thing is that Ruhian’s presence means more fight scenes.

By the final act, all the overwrought convolutions, in combination with the fighting, had left me spinning, yet despite how overwhelming it all was, this movie is a greater achievement than The Raid. Rarely has simplicity been jettisoned for something so labyrinthine without losing what made it great. It has been a curse of film sequels that bigger is supposed to equal better. Here, the sequel lives up to its promise. The fighting is spectacular, even with the gruesome violence, and the cast of characters is developed in a way the one-dimensional personalities of the first film could not have been. The much longer running time also means that Evans could cram more cliché into the film, but it doesn’t seem to suffer much for it. There isn’t even that much of a demand that a viewer pay close attention to the plot. Participation in the storyline can be considered optional.

The Raid 2 is sibling to The Raid, but these brothers are very different. Perhaps it was good that Evans was forced to make his trimmed-down idea first, before moving on to this magnum opus. We viewers benefit by seeing his solutions to two very different problems: too little money in the first film, and too much story in the second.