‘The Raid 2′ Review
The Sundance cut of 'The Raid 2' is 148 minutes. I think I saw 138. Ten minutes before the end I turned to a colleague and said "all right, enough of this," and walked out. It is the first time I've ever left a film that I intended to review in my career.
Oddly, I wasn't hating 'The Raid 2'. I've stuck through far worse films. You might even interpret my reaction as a mark of success for director Gareth Evans and his team of choreographers and makeup artists. The violence in this unrated cut is so relentless, so absolutely brutal, that I just couldn't take anymore. The snapped bones, shattered skulls and spraying blood walked up to the line of good taste and ripped it apart with the back of a hammer. While athletically and technically impressive, the final fights in 'The Raid 2' are so unpleasant that I realized that if I didn't race out of my seat, I may have vomited in the theater.
The other bit of bad news is that the non-fighting parts of 'The Raid 2,' you know, the plot, isn't really all that interesting. The first 'Raid' used the specificity of an isolated apartment block to contain the action that literally and figuratively escalated. This new film is more sprawling, to the point of being incoherent.
Since this review is already loaded with confessions, I'll let you know that I had an unusually difficult time following the story here, likely because of the striking level of violence in the action set pieces. When you see and hear skin sizzle or brains splatter or carotid arteries open up and squirt in such graphic and demonstrative fashion - over and over and over - these images and sounds tend to roll around in your mind, even when a story is unfolding. I was so thunderstruck by the action that it drowned out the actual movie.
But, from what I did glean, our hero from the first film, Rama (Iko Uwais), agrees to infiltrate a mob family for the police. He takes the long road, by doing a two-year prison term and ingratiating himself to the son of the big boss.
In the prison, there are brutal fights. When he gets out and is an enforcer, there are brutal fights. When the boss' son wants to instigate turf maneuvers against others, there are brutal fights. When other characters showed up that had some connection to the story that I couldn't put together, there are brutal fights.
Only one of the fights has anything of a sense of humor. It involves a baddie with an aluminum bat, some baseballs and really good aim. This is cross-cut with an attractive woman in dark shades wielding two hammers. Despite the somewhat poster-ready look of these two, their actions are just as brutal and nasty as everyone else's. Put bluntly, the movie just isn't fun.
Evans stages his fights like a sociopathic child playing with action figures. Every possible gruesome way to injure someone is displayed. It certainly looks...complicated...but after a while it just becomes noise. Horrible, disgusting noise.
I enjoy a good action movie as much as the next guy. I love the fights in, say, 'The World's End.' But that movie also had sharp dialogue, relatable characters and a sense of playfulness. For all the technique, 'The Raid 2' - at least this unrated cut - can only offer shock.
[Note: friends got me up to speed on what I missed in the last ten minutes. Nothing that would change my opinion of the rest of the film.]
'The Raid 2' opens in theaters on March 28.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.