“The Raid 2” begins in an unexpected venue for a 50-on-1 martial arts battle: A prison restroom stall.
Are director Gareth Evans and actor/choreographer Iko Uwais deliberately picking a tough place to stage a fight, to prove their superior skill and creativity? Is it a budgetary move, so there will be money for the swanky disco throwdown an hour and a half later? Is the bathroom a metaphor about the state of every other action film?
Welsh-born Evans and Indonesian Uwais are operating on a different action movie level here, and it’s thrilling to watch. The follow-up to the low budget “The Raid: Redemption” – basically one big fight in a dingy high-rise – is much more ambitious, but no less meticulously crafted. At 2 1/2 hours, it still feels lean.
Uwais is Rama, a cop whose reward for surviving the last movie is a multiyear undercover assignment to take down a crime ring. He becomes an enforcer for Uco, the frustrated son of Jakarta’s biggest crime boss. As two rival factions encroach on the turf, Rama must fight to keep the case, and himself, alive. Key players include a martial arts master who wanders the streets as a hobo, and lethal siblings called (self-explanatorily) Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.
That comic book vibe extends to the plot, which offers easy-to-digest plot developments, with little chance for the title character to explore the emotional fallout from his actions. Uwais is a charismatic presence, but he’s not a rangy actor, and Evans manages the deficiencies well.
What the star can do is fight, and each blood-soaked scene, choreographed by Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian, one-ups the next. A sloppy prison mud-brawl is followed by a scene of brutal subway carnage, and finally a balletic knife fight in a kitchen. Evans and Uwais work together wonderfully, never more so than during a high-octane martial arts battle during a car chase – with the dextrous film crew shooting footage looking down through the roof of a sedan.
Evans pays careful attention to atmosphere, while giving wide berth to cinematographers Dimas Imam Subhono and Matt Flannery, who find beauty among the mayhem. Everything on screen is crystal clear and vibrant, like a city street right after the rain.
Crystal clear, vibrant and brutally violent. “The Raid 2” is actually a very good entry point for martial art film novices, but know what you’re getting into. Hammer Girl doesn’t use those tools for carpentry.