In all its lengthy and bloody glory, The Raid 2 ends up being about as reputable of an answer to the question, "How could Gareth Evans top The Raid?", as one can imagine, which is no small feat. With a budget just barely north of a million dollars, the director orchestrated a furiously-paced rush of adrenaline with the original, based on the constrained geography of a narrow apartment building, the unyielding threat of organized gangsters populating its near-dilapidated floors, and the intensity of Indonesia's pencak silat martial-arts style. For this sequel, Evans doesn't take the easy way out by shoving lead-character Rama into a second traditional "raid" on yet another building, instead using the original film's success as a springboard for developing a thematically richer, if familiar detour into the realm of obligatory undercover police work. The gory, relentless action that hallmarked the first returns in these elevated stakes, culminating into one of the year's hardest-hitting action films.
Evans didn't initially intend for this story to branch off from The Raid: Redemption, though, modifying a script that he'd been previously developing into an extension of the first film's narrative. You wouldn't know it by the way the plot elements weave together: in a roundabout way, the events in The Raid 2 occur mere hours after Rama (Iko Uwais) -- and a few other surviving officers -- made it out of the apartment building on the steam of his martial-arts training, armed with recorded evidence and looking for legal blood against corrupt cops. Given the sensitivity of the material, he meets with a trusted member of a covert internal affairs task force, who presents Rama with the opportunity to investigate the city's organized crime and police force ... at a price. To do this, he'll have to covertly land himself in prison and build a relationship with the son, Uco (Arifin Putra), of one of the city's prominent drug lords, Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), in hopes that the stint in jail will put him in a trusted recon position against the factions, dirty cops, and another rogue crime lord, Bejo (Alex Abbad).
The polished simplicity of the original has been abandoned for larger, more dynamic aspirations in The Raid 2, broadening the scale and emotional tempo by taking Evans' brand of action outside the confines of a single building. Evans attacks his story with observable influences from other films featuring long-job undercover cops and power shifts in criminal organizations: there's a lot of Infernal Affairs in its DNA, along with Scorsese-like gangster depictions and the stylistic flair of South Korean revenge cinema. He's also ruthless in the lengths he's gone to elevate the stakes around Rama and to give the story its own merits, swiftly annihilating several key characters in the film's first couple of minutes and glimpsing at a distressed Rama trapped in his dark prison cell with only his fury to keep him company. Where The Raid was dark on a physical and perfunctory level through thug mercilessness, the sequel takes the hero's mentality into bleaker terrain as he chooses to sacrifice his livelihood -- and push his boundaries -- for the sake of his family and the desire to clean up the city.
Once The Raid 2 moves out of the prison and into Indonesia's urban jungle -- shared between Uco's father's organization and the Japanese yakuza -- the plot twists and turns towards conflict built around the third-party manipulation of the territory's major players, with Rama as the rookie underling who's observing and caught in the machinations. Evans' dedication to establishing an engaging backbone for the resulting action is to be commended, especially for a martial-arts film, where he explores Uco's hasty desire for responsibility and the personal sacrifices Rama makes to protect his identity. That said, the plot also sprawls across two-and-a-half hours of largely foreseeable conclusions to its (figurative) backstabbing and the personal nature of family-owned organized crime, needlessly dragging out the storytelling through scenes of karaoke gone wrong and mustache-twirling plan discussion. Also, the film dips into almost Tarantino-esque caricatures with its villains this time around, namely a mute girl wielding hammers and a guy who uses baseballs and a bat as his weapons of choice. This uptick in entertainment value and dramatic complexity comes at the expense of some of the vivid, genuine energy powering the original, even becoming a tad puzzling when one major actor returns for a new role (even if his fighting capabilities become a welcome sight).
Despite juggling this extended runtime (which was even longer early on in the editing process), Gareth Evans clearly understands momentum and the necessity for visceral beats, which the film delivers in spades whenever its action-film adrenaline, especially its kinetic choreography, takes over. The stark appearance of The Raid's nearly-grayscale aesthetic has been replaced by vividly grimy, visceral imagery in the prison -- including a dazzling mud-drenched brawl -- and the syndicate's ramshackle production buildings, as well as the faintly glamorous settings of a stylish restaurant and multi-floor nightclub. Along with brightly-lit stretches of subway trains and streets in Indonesia, the versatility of these locations in The Raid 2 surround Evans' signature bloodshed with touches of inventive splendor, where clever photography and tight editing elevate its rapid punches, spilling blood, and traumatized flesh into an unexpectedly artful collage of carnage. The martial-arts brawls appear just as weighty and credible as the original, only with engaging shifts in geography that keep the violence fresh, including one insane chain of car-chase sequences.
Evans proves that he knows how to end his films, too, as The Raid 2 caps off its interwoven scenes of combat and gangster drama with a brutally gripping finale, merrily reflecting on the strengths of the original film's premise while systematically, if unsurprisingly, tying up the sequel's loose ends. While the extent of Rama's capabilities and limitations swing somewhat arbitrarily based on the demands of the story, Iko Uwais' intense gazes and fluid, terse movements against his aggressors reinforce the perception that he's this weather-worn force of nature who -- even with a heaving chest and scattered wounds across his body -- could feasibly land the blows he delivers. What started out as a detached story from the universe of The Raid transforms into an admirable evolution in his character once everything's said and done, with the door still left wide open for another sequel regardless of the immense finality of what goes down. While the next film could benefit from a more concise runtime, Evans and the Merantau crew have proven their mettle in such a way with The Raid 2 that I'm greatly anticipating a comparable follow-up.
The Raid 2 arrives from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in a standard Blu-ray case, with cover artwork that replicates the design from one of the US poster designs, only with the red tint dialed back a bit. Now, it's worth noting that the only cut available on this Blu-ray appears to be the mildly-"censored" R-rated version that was shown theatrically in the US; however, as communicated by Gareth Evans himself, the cuts necessary to get the film to the desired rating amounted to less than five seconds of material, centering entirely on a few frames here and there. After seeing the bloodshed that passed inspection into this cut, it's hard to imagine the bits that were actually deemed too offensive, since what's here is quite unabashed in its bloodiness. The difference in cuts, however, sounds entirely negligible, and it certainly doesn't show in the editing.
Video and Audio:
Gareth Evans and his cinematographer Mike Flannery shot The Raid 2 on Red cameras, primarily the EPIC, and the resulting 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer from the digital intermediate is, in a word, flawless. This is one of those situations where everything worth describing about this visualization might come off as overstatements, but they're really not: fine details in close-ups, cloth textiles like burlap and leather, and coarse textures against the prison's weathered walls are razor sharp; warm flesh tones and vivid palette choices react exceptionally well to the film's fluctuating light sources and color choices; and its nimble grasp on contrast renders deep, responsive black levels that never crush out details. Both indoor and outdoor scenes look fantastic no matter how coarse, glamorous, or mundane they are -- shots of a beautiful body-dumping lake and in Bejo's deep-red restaurant stand out -- while the furious motion of the hand-to-hand brawls never suffers one iota from digital issues at 24p. It's a superbly shot film, and it's been superbly transferred to Blu-ray by Sony.
This Indonesian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a beast, too, that's equally as pristine and forceful as the transfer. Right away, with the sounds of rustling grass and insects in a field, it's clear that the treatment's going to engage every limit of the surround channels, which becomes more and more evident as the fierce actions kicks into gear. Shotgun blasts are aggressively lucid at both high and low ends of the spectrum, while the sounds of speeding cars, shattered glass, and ricocheting bullets stretch out across the entire surround stage. Subtler sound effects, like the pouring of tea and the drop of a leather bag on wood before it's zipped open, are organic and responsive to the environment, while the pulsating and graceful music commands a presence without drowning out the sound effects one bit. And those punches, kicks, body slams, blade slices, hammer blows, metal baseball bat knocks ... ? They all hit solid and fast, with no clipping anywhere. Just, damn. There's also an English 5.1 Master Audio track and a Spanish 5.1 treatment for those interested, along with English and Spanish subtitles.
Commentary with Gareth Evans:
Evans starts out his commentary track by point-blank stating his intentions and that he's going to try and not overlap with the other special features available on the Blu-ray. That, right there, should already be an indicator of how aware, humble, and passionate this direction is about his craft, something that gets revealed more and more both within this track and in the other special features. He centers on anecdotes, and gets systematic and quite in-detail about his topics: his discussion about transitioning the film from the standalone Berandal to The Raid 2 is at its most clear and relaxed here, he name-drops references to other films that inspired him, reveals some info about really cool-sounding scenes that were cut (such as a four-minute Steadicam sequence featuring a crucial unseen fight in the film), and, yes, goes into some detail about the car-chase sequence. He's very honest and conversational about the practicalities of building the film, from locations and computer-generated touches to elements getting lost in translation and the musical composition being a fusion of styles, and it turns into a subtly insightful track that fans will want to devour. He's not exactly successful in steering clear of redundancy with what he discusses in other special features, but he's given a better opportunity to elaborate on his ideas.
The Next Chapter: Shooting a Sequel (10:47, 16x9 HD) covers the basics behind Evans' process of tackling a sequel to The Raid, taking quite a bit of time to retrace the plot's steps as the actors chat a bit about the characters they're playing. It features a number of behind-the-scenes shots as well, seamlessly integrated into the interviews with Evans and the crew, along with the director covering his perspective behind orchestrating action that's informed by the story, and vice versa. Ready for a Fight: On Location (12:59, 16x9 HD) takes a more direct, hands-on approach to the scene setups and production ideas at work in several scenes, from the initial jail battle sequences and mud brawl to the film's incredible car-chase. Violent Ballet (19:03, 16x9 HD) starts out as a redundant making-of piece if you've watched the Cinefamily Q&A (discussed below) or the previous features that discuss Evans' perspective on sequels, but it becomes far more pertinent once it digs into the details of planning the fight sequences.
Also included is a terrific CineFamily Q&A with Gareth Evans, Iko Uwais, and Joe Trapanese (44:09, 16x9 HD) that took place directly after a screening of the film, where Evans guides the discussion about the film's origin, budget changes from the first, and how he accomplished several actions sequences. Uwais chimes in a few times about how the film was received in Indonesia, and Trapanese discusses the collaborative effort behind the score's conception. The Blu-ray has also arrived with the frequently-discussed Gang War Deleted Scene (4:37, 16x9 HD), which makes more sense out of some otherwise purely atmospheric festival footage incorporated in the film, as well as a Theatrical Trailer (1:36, 16x9 HD). An Ultraviolet Digital Copy slip has also been included.
Gareth Evans took a concept he'd had on the backburner for several years and found a way to reconstruct its more plot-centric premise into The Raid 2, which somewhat inadvertently answers the criticisms lobbed at the original film's skeletal story. Throwing Rama into an undercover situation following his experience in the apartment building turns out to be a brilliant springboard, both for an interesting evolution of his family-centered, noble character and for the hard-knock brutality he got a taste for as a rookie SWAT officer in that harrowing situation. While the story itself borders on being excessively drawn-out and a tad overstated in its conflict among organized crime factions, it's a satisfying branch-off in Evans' hands, who clearly knows how to organically tie in action sequences to a progressing story. And that action itself? Those who were satisfied with its velocity, the violence, and the rigorousness will find the envelope pushed a bit further in the sequel. The film itself and Sony Home Entertainment's stacked and stunningly-rendered Blu-ray comes extremely Highly Recommended.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site