Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I often find myself defending movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins 2 from movie fans crazy that anybody can appreciate them on any level. My first response in these debates is that love them or hate them they tried something different. They weren't content to just repeat the tone and emotional peaks and valleys of their successful first films. I always appreciate that effort even though it's risky, both critically and financially.
In the first 10 minutes of The Raid 2: Berandal writer/director Gareth Evans catches us up to the aftermath of the events of the first movie before dumping us (and lead badass Iko Uwais) in the middle of an epic story involving multiple gangs, deadly assassins and a web of criminal politics. Evans took a chance and didn't just do “The Raid, but bigger!” He gave his audience credit that they wouldn't revolt at a slow build after the non-stop adrenalin shot that was the first movie.
Spoilery things transpire at the beginning of the movie that lead to Rama agreeing to work with the one honest cop left, an internal affairs agent that has a grand plan to weed out the systemic corruption on the force. Of course that plan means Rama has to pretend to be dead and get close to a mob boss' kid, who just so happens to be in a dangerous prison.
While there are some good fight scenes, including the most epic prison yard fight ever executed, things really don't kick up into high gear until about halfway through the movie. Like I said above, it's a slow build that takes its time making sure all the new players and different factions are clearly defined. We know about the uneasy truce between the two crime lords that control the city and the chaos factor of a lowly newcomer with big aspirations and an even bigger appetite for violence.
Then there are the amazing new characters like Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman)... I'll give you two guesses at what their respective weapon of choice is. They both get established being about as badass as you can be and knowing this is ultimately an action movie, I found myself eagerly awaiting the time Rama would face them head on.
Rama spends most of this time quietly taking a backseat as these guys are introduced and set up, which is something no action sequel would ever do in the states. Either actor ego or studio nerves would force the main star to be in almost every single shot of the movie.
Another thing you won't find in modern filmmaking is bringing an actor back from the first movie to play a completely unrelated and wildly different character than in the previous. Yayan Ruhian was Mad Dog in the first film and was such a great villain that they decided to bring him back as an assassin with the most backstory. He looks like a crazy homeless man with beard and long hair and he takes his targets out with a machete. But he has a sweet side! He's just a man supporting his family.
While Rama earns trust protecting the boss' ambitious and cocky son Ucok (Arifin Putra) and gets closer and closer to his goal, while trying to keep his cover intact. There's not as much Departed style mole-hunting as you'd expect with this pretense, but I felt like that was actually a quite refreshing twist on this kind of story.
Instead all the players in this game are set up neatly before one inciting incident puts all rival gangs at each others' throats and forces Rama to go one long action-packed bullet train to the finale.
Let's talk about the action. Gareth Evans has already proven his one of the top directors of action sequences with just Merantau and the first Raid, but he's taken it up a notch here. There's a car chase in this film that left me gaping up at the screen. I couldn't even tell you how to begin planning for a sequence like this. There is a fist fight in a car, a shotgun vs automatic pistol fight between two other cars, motorcyclists with uzis and a roaming camera that seemingly doesn't cut for minutes at a time.
Then there's the kitchen scene. I won't describe it but I will say it is this movie's version of the torture room/Mad Dog fight of the first movie and, in my opinion, tops that fight in all ways. Choreography, brutality, drama, emotion, editing... everything is turned up here.
It's difficult to compare this film to the first because they are so radically different. The first one will probably be watched more by me, but that's because it's such a fun non-stop rush of action. Raid 2 is more thoughtful, more considered and funnily enough more adult, even if there is an undeniable glee to the carnage here (wait until you see what happens to the motorcycle guy in the car chase sequence).
Another thing that I loved about the movie is that all the bad guys save for the top guy are all super likeable. Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man are protective of each other in a brother/sister way, Yayan Ruhian is trying to do right by his child and is fiercely loyal to the boss, Ucok is power hungry, but just wants his chance to be as great as his father and The Assassin (played by the amazing Cecep Arif Rahman) has so much respect for Rama when they finally show down that you can almost see the excitement on his face that he gets to test his strength against such a worthy opponent. He's almost childlike that way.
The film got a standing ovation when the credits came up and I was an enthusiastic part of that. I know there's a danger of overhyping the movie. Call it being caught up in the moment, infected by the energy of a hugely buzzed premiere screening of the film, if you want, but I'll carry this screening with me for a while. If the film was only the car chase and kitchen fight it'd be top 10 action films already, but there's so much attention to character motivation, a willingness to be light at the right moments and a smart, patient setting up of story that it left me stunned at the end.
And it left me energized, which is a little bit of a problem when it's nearly 3am and I have to be up in a few hours to make an early morning movie.
So, thems my thoughts. Can't wait for you guys to see this thing come March. Do yourselves a favor and see it on the biggest, loudest screen with the rowdiest audience possible.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter while I keep my nose to the grindstone traversing the insanity that is the Sundance Film Festival. You'll get my immediate thoughts and other random shit as I go about my business in Park City. It's fun, trust me!