Monday, 21 April 2014

The Raid 2 (J.A.)

When The Raid appeared in cinemas two years ago it was a gloriously violent breath of fresh air, giving us unique pulse-pounding action scenes and the sort of gore which for some reason abandoned the action genre in the early 90s. Yet with its excellent if inferior futuristic English language remake Dredd released later that year, and considering pure simplicity of the original, what direction was The Raid franchise to take?  

Traditionally there is a simple equation to sequeldom – if, as in The Raid, real men use fists instead of guns so to dispatch enemies, in the sequel women use hammers. And while this is all true of Raid 2, there is so much more to it. The film instead pulls off what Aliens did, fundamentally changing genres by shifting from pure action flick to action thriller. Our protagonist (Iko Uwais) is forced to go undercover in the seedy underbelly of Jakarta crime lords, in a convoluted story of revenge, betrayal and father and sons, that becomes increasingly and brilliantly doom driven. For this alone Welsh director Gareth Evans deserves credit for not taking the path well trodden, but even more so for the fact that it works shockingly well, proving he is just as capable with dialogue scenes as rampant bloodletting. The visuals also prove as sharp as any of the knives on show, and the whole thing looks simply fantastic. And anyone concerned that there is not going to be enough bloodshed needn’t worry; it’s still there in droves, and frankly it seems unlikely that the fight scenes are going to be bettered anytime soon.

Yet in doing this, the feel of the film has fundamentally changed, and the comparison to Aliens holds on several more levels since the originals to both (Alien and The Raid) worked brilliantly in small, confined territory. It may be all too easy to “admire their purity”, but it is true that The Raid is an extraordinarily simple concept but an exhilarating ride, that carried just as much depth and feeling to make its plot and action feel meaningful and let the choreography do the rest. The sequels are baggier and more complex, leaving a very different taste behind as they try to do more and be about more. Which is not so much a criticism, but an inevitable consequence of expanding so much upon such simplistic concepts as ‘Jaws in Space’ (Alien) or ‘Martial Arts Die Hard’ (The Raid). The Raid 2 is still tense and exhilarating, yet it has lost something. Lacking that streamlined simplicity it does at times feel a bit baggy and very occasionally makes stumbles, which is not entirely surprising given its 150-minute run time.

Yet The Raid 2 - aka The Departed with martial arts – is truly interesting, proving so much more than the straightforward rehash one might expect. While it may lose some purity, the terrific action, tension and constantly growing sense of dread make for one of the most interesting and intriguing sequels in many years. 

James Absolon

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