I was a big fan of Indonesian action film The Raid:Redemption by writer director Gareth Evans which made waves several years back as one of the most action packed movies of all time. It introduced the world to the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat, showcased in the movie by real life champs Iko Uwais, who played the lead character Rama, and Yayan Ruhian, better known as Mad Dog, the psychotic right hand man of the film’s main villain. In the first movie, these two doubled as fight coordinators and actors – same with the second movie. So basically, it was the same team that worked on both movies.
After Rama miraculously survived the bloodbath that happened in their raid of crime lord Tama Riyadi’s apartment block in the first movie, he is enlisted to go undercover after his brother Andi (Doni Alamsyah) is killed by an up and coming gangster named Bejo. His mission is to unmask the crooked cops on the syndicate’s payroll and in order to do that, he must get in deep in crime boss Bangun’s organization through his son Uco (Arifin Putra), an arrogant, hard headed and hot tempered gangster impatient to take over the reins of his father’s operation. But as Rama gets further involved with the syndicate, he finds it harder to extricate himself from the complexities of the underground and in the end, he realizes he must put a stop to the madness himself or die trying.
Its hard not to have any expectations when it comes to The Raid 2 because the first movie was just so well executed and heart pounding with some of the most groundbreaking stunts in the action genre. The team could have stopped there but decided that because of the success of the first film, a second film can duplicate this victory. Well, in this case, not so much.
The good news is that the action was still there. The great hand to hand combat sequences was still the highlight of the film but unlike in the first one where the film chose moments to highlight the art of pencak silat, this one chose to go for quantity, pitting Rama against mobs time and again. The sheer violence of the action scenes could tear paint from a wall. And the obsession with stabbing and hacking? What’s up with all the knife fights? In contrast to the first movie, not much guns were used in this installment which sometimes made me wish that there were more to lend variety. This is not to say that the action sequences were not executed with finesse. It was done once again perfectly with such high caliber fighters like Uwais and Ruhian, but what was different and slightly inferior was the cinematography.
Director Garreth Evans chose to do away with the steady cam and instead chose to use shots that were not so stable, which often resulted in the audience not being able to focus on the characters or the stunts, but rather in looking for key players in the scene. While it was understandable that Evans was going for artistry, especially in scenes like the prison riots, it took away from the moment and that was a shame because action was really the bread and butter of this film.
The scattered narrative also didn’t do the film any favors. The film seemed to lose focus, leading to confusion as to the real objective of Rama’s mission. While there was a lot happening in the crime organization, it seemed like it was all negligible to Rama’s boss because they were going after the crooked cops and not the organization itself. And up until the end, even when Rama risked his life to fight off throes of gangsters, it seemed futile because he never got close to his main objective, which posed the question among audiences about what the relevance of half of the film was because there were a lot of dull moments that seemed boring and irrelevant to the movie.
Another thing that was weird about the movie was the appearance of Yayan Ruhian portraying a different character. It was just weird because he had such a big role in the first movie and died so prominently but without any explanation, somebody who looked exactly like him appeared, with another name and another backstory. Because the first two movies were connected by continuity, they should have just left out Ruhian in this movie, no matter how great a fighter he was, if it were up to me. It just didn’t make sense to have him in it unless he was playing Mad Dog risen from the dead, or he was his twin brother, or something.
One thing that was noticeably missing from this movie was the kickass scoring of Mike Shinoda. Most of the scenes fell flat because there was no music to set the tone. After a while, it became so depressing to see Rama breathing heavily and resolving to get out of the mess that has become his life, or so tedious to watch protracted action scenes in complete silence.
In my opinion, there may have been a part of director Gareth Evans trying to go for a Kill Bill vibe with the introduction of characters like Hammer Girl and Bat dude (as in baseball bat), two psychotic henchmen of Bejo but despite the blood, brains and bones spilled and broken after their sequences, it didn’t quite work out as well as he wanted, mainly because Bejo was not as menacing and as compelling a villain as he should have been.
All in all, this film didn’t lack for any adrenalin pumping action but in every aspect, felt inferior to its predecessor because of its overambition and inconsistency. It would have been just better if they made a separate movie altogether in order to have more freedom in terms of plot and presentation instead of adding to a franchise that could have ended solidly with the first movie alone. For me, it was just a shame and a waste of great talent and potential.