Having just about recovered from the tower block siege of The Raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover in a crime family. He spends the rest of the film quietly trying to blend in, carefully gathering evidence and staying out of trouble. Only joking. He engages in a string of unbelievably violent fights as the crime families prepare to go to war.
One of the many great things about The Raid was its simplicity. A group of police invade a tower block run by criminal gangs. They’re trapped, and the only way out is to fight their way to the top. And through this premise, created for maximum action, weaves a great crime plot, and some of the best choreographed action ever put to film. Freed from the constraints of the tower block, The Raid 2 is far from the revelation that was part one.
The plot of this film sprawls around the city, with the fight scenes feeling far more contrived than before. The residents of the tower block took the side of their criminal overlords, meaning the cops had to fight their way through hordes of foot soldiers. In 2, every fight has to been accompanied by a few dozen disposable henchmen so we can see as many dismemberings, gorings, amputations and burst blood vessels as possible. Director Gareth Evans seems to think people won’t watch if someone isn’t being tortured. This results in bizarre scenes, such as one where two characters converse while slicing people’s throats for no apparent reason.
The first film felt like it wasn’t shying away from violence. The second feels like it goes out of its way at every opportunity to pack in as much gore as possible, and as such it’s often very unpleasant to watch. In one truly pathetic but very telling scene, Rama is being strip searched. The camera modestly averts its gaze to avoid seeing a naked man. Evans sets his film up as one that isn’t afraid to shock and push boundaries, but shies away from a bit of biology, thus showing that he only cares about gore, not about treating his audience as adults. This shock value isn’t necessary to make a good film. In one scene, a strap-on wearing woman is anally penetrating a man in the background of a conversation for no apparent reason. It’s a film designed for people with the attention span of a sadistic stoner.
The fighting remains expertly choreographed, but with a far longer running time, it’s exhausting rather than exhilarating. The crime plot is one that feels like it’s been done before, and in its worst moments it feels like watching torture-porn-as-arthouse movie Only God Forgives or Stallone’s last Rambo film. Also, in the first film we pretty much knew who the good guys were, but most of the violence here is gang on gang, so there’s no investment in it beyond simply enjoying the gore; a step in the wrong direction.
It’s such a disappointment to see one of the most innovative, exciting and daring action films of the last 10 years reduced to a run-of-the-mill crime movie with buckets of gratuitously splashed blood. It would have been more daring to not end every scene with a bloodbath. Gareth Evans has gone from walking the line of good taste in the first movie, to taking a huge leap over the line, then going back to take a dump on it.