The Raid 2: Sundance Review

There are tradeoffs with the switch to a more epic, ambitious canvas, but Gareth Evans’ action sequel in most ways that count is an even more masterful jolt of high-energy genre filmmaking.

The body count is out of control in Gareth Evans’ bigger, bloodier followup to his 2011 Indonesian action thriller, with fight maestro Iko Uwais returning as the kickass rookie cop.

Leaving behind the original’s grungy Jakarta tenement setting for the luxurious hangouts of Indonesia’s organized crime overlords, The Raid 2 pumps up its production values several notches. Even so, it’s easy to imagine that one of the biggest items on the budget might be the orthopedics bill, since this orgy of broken bones and vicious badassery makes its cult predecessor look like a peevish bitch-slap. Lining up bloody showdowns like the dizzying acts of a hyper-violent ballet, Gareth Evans’ sequel invites accusations of, ahem, overkill. But the fanboys will eat it up.

Sony Pictures Classics released the exhilarating 2011 original as The Raid: Redemption, and while introducing the second installment at Sundance, Welsh-born Evans said jokingly that it might go out as The Raid 2: More Redemption. (SPC has set a March 28 U.S. release.)

I don’t know about redemption, but there’s more of pretty much everything in this sequel. That means it sacrifices some of the purity of the first movie, which had its share of weaponry but was rendered exciting and distinctive primarily by its virtuoso assaults of lethal fists and feet on flesh.

Visceral in the extreme, the bravura martial arts mayhem still takes pride of place, choreographed again by lead actor Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, who also appears, though as a different character from last time. But Evans expands the hardware beyond the usual guns and knives, giving some of his assassins their own special tools. Those include a baseball and bat, a pickaxe, some cool claw daggers and a pair of hammers wielded by a deadly female (Julie Estelle). There’s also a sensational extended car chase sequence that withstands comparison to anything in the Fast and the Furious franchise.

But though the sheer muscularity of Evans’ direction remains dazzling, The Raid 2 seems less unique. It contains echoes of Quentin Tarantino, Nicholas Winding Refn and Takeshi Kitano, with similarities to the latter’s work enhanced by a contingent of Japanese mobsters. Still, few are likely to complain given the adrenaline rush of Evans’ set pieces and the inventiveness of the bloodletting.

VIDEO: 'The Raid 2' International Trailer Packs a Punch

Uwais returns as police officer Rama, but his bad-seed brother, Andi (Donny Alamsyah), isn’t so lucky. He gets iced in the opening minutes in a sugarcane field by Bejo (Alex Abbad), a half-Arab gangster looking to grow his territory. Bejo tells Andi that ambition and limitation don’t mix well in the underworld. That unfortunate combination applies to more than one criminal upstart here, Bejo included.

Demonstrating that the cops are almost as ruthless as the crooks, Rama is forced to go undercover in an anti-corruption task force, with the understanding that the safety of his wife and child depend on it. He’s cornered into doing prison time to get close to Ucok (Arifin Putra), the cocky son of old-school crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), whose syndicate co-exists peacefully with that of his Japanese counterpart, Goto (Kenichi Endo).

In a great kickoff to the fight action, Rama gets Ucok’s attention by single-handedly dispatching the welcome committee with little more than a steel bathroom door. While the cop initially refuses overtures to join the mob scion’s gang, he steps in when Ucok’s life is threatened. The gritty squalor of the prison is the chief visual link with the grubby aesthetic of the first movie. It’s also the setting for a massive smackdown when all hell breaks loose in the muddy courtyard after a downpour. Rama shows his resourcefulness by making creative use of a broom handle, earning Ucok’s respect and loyalty.

Cut to two years later, when Rama is ushered upon his release into Bangun’s employ. Nervous about keeping his identity under wraps, he receives little help or reassurance from his police supervisor. He proves his worth to Bangun, but the cop’s safety is jeopardized when Ucok starts rocking the boat, looking for advancement from his reluctant father. His dissatisfaction becomes known beyond the organization, bringing an offer from Bejo to team up and start a war between Bangun and Goto while honing in on their territory.

If the conflict between brothers was central to The Raid, the divide between father and son dominates this one. The characters are surprisingly well drawn for a movie so predominantly physical, and the lead actors all make vivid impressions. Alongside the broodingly charismatic fighting machine Uwais, Putra makes Ucok’s arrogant stupidity compelling (and what he does with a karaoke microphone is certainly a new tune), while Oka Antara brings quiet gravitas to Bangun’s trusted right-hand man, who harbors a secret.

At two and a half hours, the movie is not as tight as the earlier film, and its somewhat convoluted plotting demands concentration to keep the various factions and characters straight. At times it takes a minute to figure out who’s fighting whom. However, there’s plenty of intrigue, even if the downtime is secondary in the bigger scheme of things, which is all about relentless punishment.

Evans gives the audience a knowing wink by having Rama endure repeated batterings that would leave mere mortals in traction, not to mention some nasty blade wounds. Yet he keeps coming back, finding the stamina to snap more limbs and crush more skulls. Taking place inside moving vehicles, a subway car, a noodle bar, warehouses, a porn factory, tight corridors and – in the most electrifying mano-a-mano clash – a gleaming nightclub kitchen and wine cellar, the fights are dynamite.

They are enhanced immeasurably by widescreen camerawork that’s as nimble as the footwork (Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono shot the movie), and editing by Evans and Andi Novianto to match. The use of slow motion both in the buildup and the climactic peaks of violence has become something of an action-movie cliche. But Evans’ playful eye for detail keeps it fresh, and given the speed at which most of the carnage unfolds, a little visual respite is not unwelcome. Joseph Trapanese, Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal contribute a dynamic score that ranges from ambient electronica to pounding drums to rare interludes of reflection. The movie is quite literally a kick.

Production: Stage 6, XYZ Films, Merentau Films
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Kenichi Endo, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kazuki Kitamara, Donny Alamsyah, Cok Simbara, Very Tri Yulisman
Director-screenwriter: Gareth Evans
Producers: Ario Sagantoro, Nate Bolotin, Aram Tertzakian
Executive producers: Rangga Maya Barack-Evans, Irwan D. Mussry, Nick Spicer, Todd Brown
Directors of photography: Matt Flannery, Dimas Imam Subhono
Production designer: Tomy Dwi Setyanto
Costume designer: Rinaldi Fikri Aldie Harra

Editors: Gareth Evans, Andi Novianto
Music: Joseph Trapanese, Aria Prayogi, Fajar Yuskemal
Fight choreographers: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian
Sales: XYZ Films
No rating, 148 minutes