Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Raid 2 - Review

THE RAID 2 is not only an action masterpiece but a true spectacle to be enthralled into. This is one of the few movies playing now that truly makes you love the art of cinema while pleasuring all of your cathartic and carnal urges. It delivers more "holy shit!"'s than a church bathroom, overabundant with deliriously cool throw-downs and soaking in baths of visceral bloodshed. You might be dismayed by a few missteps, namely the use of some badly rendered CGI and the dreaded return of shaky-cam, but trust me when I say that it keeps getting far better and better with each elbow to the head, every gun clip emptied into a brain, and every meticulously planned out fight scene devised by director Gareth Evans.

Starting off several hours after the events of the first movie, rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) is the only one of the few survivors able to be labelled a future asset in the eyes of Bunawar (Cok Simbara); his injured buddy is mysteriously spirited away while the lieutenant responsible for the egregious apartment purge is executed on the spot. As head of the anti-corruption task force and one of the few men able to be trusted, Bunawar wants to bring Rama into his unit, first by eliminating him off the grid by submitting a false police report to his superiors that no one survived the previous engagement. After the paperwork has been filled and he's legally dead, Rama would then go undercover as a bumpkin thug, carted off into jail after beating up a corrupt official's son, in order to intertwine himself with a fellow prisoner, Uco (Arifin Putra). Uco just so happens to be the prodigal son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), the mellow but still heinously ruthless kingpin of Jakarta, and who also has a strained alliance with a yakuza outfit. Once worming himself into the gang as Uco's comrade, Rama is to remain under their strict care, perpetrate every crime given to him under orders, until he can obtain hard proof of their dealings and bribes with the higher-ups in the police force. Rama is at first hesitant to embark on the dangerous venture but, like all stars in martial arts films, he is suddenly given a vendetta when his family drops one member, namely his criminal brother Andi. His depature is displayed in the prologue, where he's shotgun blasted into a hole by the true wildcard of the picture, a physically crippled but supremely methodical player named Bejo (Alex Abbad).

Evans has thankfully listened to the critics and made sweeping changes across the board for this installment. The biggest gripe of the first film was the entire plot, which possessed nil characterization and was never truly compelling when it came to the points of shallow family drama. Here, the scope has drastically changed, as it forgoes repeating its intriguing premise of busting down a single building of criminal activity for a city-wide narrative close to the veins of INFERNAL AFFAIRS/THE DEPARTED. Story elements that were once forever eye-rolling, such as the usual trope of corrupt police officers, now feel more grounded and toxic for the city environment. Even though it may seem that Evans has just traded in his crime and kung fu cliches just for a new set cut from the same breed, he still throws in some curveballs to the make the proceedings more fresh. For example, Rama wisely fears that his family will be targeted at any moment if his cover is blown. When something along the lines does come up towards the end, we aren't "treated" to the familiar sight of a wife/child-in-peril but a clever twist that shakes up the tradition of how final battles go.

Evans also expands on his craftsmanship skills, inventing a slew of striking visuals and, of course, violent skirmishes that will certainly dry out your eyes. He re-uses his taste for slow-burn/slow-motion tension before every set piece, making it less of an action romp and more of a horror film. But he also likes to toss in some heavy black comedy every once in awhile to defuse the situation or unnerve the viewer. Evans even seems to respond to those who can't grasp the notion of watching a movie where people refuse to use guns and instead kung fu fight; several sequences are enriched in surreality, through the artistry of lighting, editing, and sound design. A great sample of this is when a seemingly unimportant yet deadly mercenary is hanging out in a thumping discotheque, lulled by the beat into his own thoughts and personal demons. He then wakes up only to find that the music has stopped, the other patrons have all vanished, and a flock of bloodthirsty goons are coming out of the woodworks to get him.

The fights are all spectacularly marvelous, able to stand out in their own right. You have the prison-yard scene, where you can see the pains on the faces and bodies of the actors as they try to fluidly go through the motions while caked and treading in a sea of mud. There's the subtle throwback to the original, where the embedded Rama tags with Uco when making a package pick-up run at a porno hut/druggie apartment complex. Then, in the second half, you have the dazzling introductions of a series of future mid-bosses for Rama, each having their own weapon of choice and charisma. And just when it can't be topped, out comes one of the greatest car chases ever to be thought up. And if you think that the title is false, don't worry because this does end with a raid and it's too exciting to spoil here.

The actors all do a fine job on screen, often speaking with their fists and silent rage, but the real breakthrough is Arifin Putra. Featuring pretty boy good looks and serviceable marital art skills, his Uco is a true and true weasel that you can kinda enjoy, even when he starts to lose his cool demeanor or commits some dastardly executions. I also can't leave without expressing much praise for the musical score, beautifully spun by Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi, who were replaced in the first film by Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, and Joseph Trapanese. Don't refuse to see this just because it features subtitles; check this out as soon as possible. Your joy will thank you later.


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