“The Raid 2″: Come for the violence, skip the plot

This follow-up to the Indonesian cult hit has even more eye-popping mayhem, but why bother with the canned drama?

Topics: Movies, Action movies, martial arts, The Raid 2, Gareth Evans, Uko Iwais, Indonesia, Our Picks, Our Picks: Movies,

"The Raid 2": Come for the violence, skip the plot

“The Raid 2” is a hellacious midnight action movie made by the Welsh expatriate Gareth Evans, who has single-handedly channeled the extraordinary martial-arts tradition of Indonesia into two international hits. It’s not like Evans invented the Indonesian film industry, which has existed for decades, but he has pushed it beyond cranking out sloppy, no-budget work aimed at the home-video market. This one picks up right after the glorified video-game plot of 2011’s “The Raid” leaves off, with clean-cut Jakarta cop Rama (Uko Iwais, who also helped choreograph the fight sequences) about to go undercover inside a crime family and kick immense amounts of ass. He will kick ass in a mud-sodden prison yard, a porn production studio (featuring a diminutive woman wearing an enormous strap-on), a crime lord’s warehouse, a moving car (twice), an upscale nightclub, an office building and a gourmet restaurant, and no doubt other venues I am forgetting.

Here’s the thing: This movie is an overflowing cornucopia on one level, and an illustration of the premise that more is less on the other. Evans, Uwais and the cinematography team of Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono stage one episode of climactic mayhem after another, almost any of them good enough to provide the crescendo for a lesser action film. The gruesome “chick with hammers” scene aboard a subway train has already achieved legendary status among genre geeks, as has the highway chase scene, mostly shot from overhead, in which a handcuffed Rama has to overcome a team of gangsters who are taking him out to a rural field to finish him off. One of the most charismatic opponents from the first “Raid” returns (shaggy Javanese martial artist Yayan Ruhian), and a new one – a sardonic, wordless fellow known only as the Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman) is added to the mix.

But Evans – who wrote, directed and edited the film – evinces the no doubt laudable ambition to stretch beyond the booby-trapped, claustrophobic, one-damn-thing-after-another apartment-building setting of the first movie, and that’s a mixed bag. At nearly 150 minutes, “The Raid 2” is just a hell of a lot of a good thing; in fact it’s so much that it stops being a good thing, and tips over into decadent, incomprehensible farrago. I really want to defend “The Raid 2” as a film that embraces its momentary and simultaneous nature, a film that has the conceptual purity of Charlie Chaplin (except with more hammers) and rejects the middlebrow model of movieness. But in this case that simply isn’t true, and much as I enjoyed watching most of it, I was deeply grateful when it was over and feel no strong desire to see the inevitable “Raid 3.”

One way of looking at this problem is that every major film genre embodies limitations that restrict its dramatic potential: The guy and girl who seemed so mismatched in the first reel must end up together; Spider-Man must defeat his adversary but suffer a personal loss along the way. But nobody these days would dispute that crime thrillers or science-fiction movies can transcend their generic boundaries, can violate the supposed rules and veer into political commentary, social satire and almost any other form of discourse. Action movies present a particular problem, and martial-arts action movies present that problem in a highly refined form: Nobody cares about the characters or the plot. The question of “what happens” in the film resolves to a series of spectacular present-tense set pieces; the bracketing story is about as interesting and as well executed as the portions of a porn film in which the actors are wearing clothes.

Sure, if you’re a martial-arts buff you can come up with exceptions, probably drawn from the hybridized golden age of Hong Kong cinema in the ‘80s and ‘90s. More recently, we’ve had the Jet Li hit “Ip Man” and Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster” – both fictionalizing the same real-life figure. Johnnie To’s crime drama “Drug War” was lavishly praised for spinning a competent but highly familiar gangland thriller around a handful of fight scenes and shootouts. I’m not claiming I didn’t like those movies, or that I don’t share the prejudice that plot and characterization somehow lend a movie more credibility. But I also think we need to be honest that it’s just a prejudice, and that what’s been called the “classical paradigm” of Hollywood storytelling was never inscribed by God on Mt. Sinai. Do any of Bruce Lee’s movies feature a story worth a damn? Has that prevented him from being one of the most revered and iconic heroes in movie history?

What I’m saying is that to my taste Evans and company expend way too much effort on an overly familiar narrative that’s been done many times before, including in both Scorsese’s “The Departed” and its Asian model, “Infernal Affairs.” Rama gets drafted by a supposedly uncorrupted cop to go deep undercover as a young soldier in a crime empire, who comes between the handsome, spoiled heir apparent and his aging, unforgiving dad. Maybe doing this kind of boilerplate drama with some degree of competence represents a step forward for Indonesian cinema, but it’s definitely never remotely surprising or interesting. As the film drew near and then droned past the two-hour mark, I lost all patience with the multiple betrayals and narrative switchbacks, and stopped even pretending to care. Curiously (or perhaps not curiously), the final confrontation in “The Raid,” which has almost no plot at all, carried way more emotional resonance than anything in this sequel. Though I will miss the chick with the hammers.

“The Raid 2” opens in limited release this week, with wide national release to follow.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...