Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

Jul 21, 2014

The Raid 2 (2014)

by Will Ross

When I reviewed The Raid: Redemption, I was quick to point out that the action as wasn’t wall-to-wall as the popular narrative went — the bulk of the film is spent between the guns-and-fists hyperviolent action, and that shed light on a major problem: the story blew. There was so little detail or motivation or personality afforded to the characters in The Raid that it made the action a little more difficult to invest in, even if its over-simplicity also formed a partial justification for the film as a camera/fight choreography showcase, and a damned impressive one at that.

The runaway success of that film permitted its creative team to make their dream project, Berendal, and, after being retrofitted as a sequel to the first film, it was written, filmed, and completed as The Raid 2. And, despite a lengthier development and hugely increased budget, its problems are the same as its predecessor, only worse: the story is equally empty yet more protracted and grandiose, and for all the slashing, headbashing, and gore of the fight scenes, they are emotionally bloodless.

Raid 2 opens by immediately discarding the plot elements and character relationships from Redemption, obviously because writer-director-editor Gareth Evans never wanted the film to be a sequel in the first place. That’s amusing as a kind of “fuck you” to the sequeldom bestowed/imposed on Evans’s baby, but it may have been wiser for him to take the shreds of character development from the first film into this one, because lord knows The Raid 2 needs all the help it can get.

Immediately following the events of the first film, supercop Rama (Iko Uwais) is recruited to go undercover. In prison, he befriends and saves the life of Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Jakarta kingpin Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). After his release, heinfiltrates Bangun’s organization and aims to put a stop to police corruption. Relevant details don’t go much farther than that; Rama has a family that is apparently in danger (especially if he doesn’t go undercover, though this is never satisfactorily explained), but that doesn’t really come into play.

If Rama himself has any personal doubts or misgivings about the pressures of undercover work, he never shows them, as Uwais wears the same expression of stolid intensity through most of the film. Not that more is asked of him by the boilerplate script, which has no developing themes or characters in sight. Most of the action is driven by Uco’s lust for power, which leads him to engineer a gang war behind his father’s back, but the script never grants him depth beyond violent ambition. Rama, meanwhile, is seemingly only present to provide the film its requisite superhuman fight scenes; the film does all but diddly-squat with the undercover angle.

And requisite the fight scenes are. When the film isn't gleefully detailing expert killing, it's clearly, awkwardly engineered around getting to those fights. When they do happen, there are absolutely no emotional stakes nor plot development nor narrative payoff to them. They simply begin, proceed in ever-more-complex and ever-emptier technical virtuosity, and then end, with nothing really changed or gained except the most basic win-condition of brutally murdering your enemy.

And when they do end (and that can take a very long time), it’s back to the story, a totally different beast that Evans clearly cares about only fractionally in comparison, if the visual direction is any sign. The Raid’s dialogue scenes are staged with almost no verve or original intent beyond some self-conscious angles and palette choices, and their boring construction is a signpost for their disposability in comparison to the elaborate action staging.

One area of craft, however, remains consistent throughout the film: the sound design, which is incredibly repetitive. It uses the same “drop out all sound except a low-end rumble” trick dozens of times across its length, is filled with cinematic booms, and frequently ends scenes with intense, noisy, constantly crescendoing electronic score before cutting to another scene with a loud “BANG”! There is a scene that uses the Sarabande movement from Handel's Keyboard suite in D minor (in what seems to be a bizarre, misguided tribute to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon), and it is one of the most misplaced uses of non-original music I’ve seen in years, completely at tonal and stylistic odds with the rest of the film.

So, the film features energetic technical showcases of violence in the context of a boilerplate, undernourished gangland drama that exists only to permit the former. But the narrative’s decreased depth and increased length and self-seriousness makes the technically superior action of this film morally and emotionally inferior to that of the first film. The violence in The Raid: Redemption was already drifting into uncomfortable fetishism, but the lower proportion and video-game referencing nature of its “one-building, level by level” premise made it easier to accept as a display of technical showmanship and spectacle first and foremost. But to approach The Raid 2 on its own terms is to approach it entirely differently than its predecessor, because the scope of the sequel’s narrative and higher story-to-action ratio suggests Evans has real narrative ambitions.

Fine. But that means that the violence in The Raid 2, which is more interested in the limits and destruction of the human body than ever, should inform and take cues from those ambitions. Instead, it presents extremely graphic, low-consequence, high-body count violence. The film is amoral, not only in its indifference towards violence, but in its disdain for the human being as anything but a weapon or target. Raid 2 is obsessively interested in digging deep into its characters, but only in an all-too-literal way. There is only flesh and bones here, no soul at the center.


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