Once in a great while, I just get stuck attempting to explain how great a film really is. The usual arsenal of praise and adoration simply doesn't seem like enough, and simply walking through a few of the highlights doesn't really capture the overall impact a particular film had on me. There's little denying that THE RAID (or THE RAID: REDEMPTION, as it was called in the states) was not only a great film, but one whose impact on action filmmaking will be felt for the next 10 years at least. And now both writer-director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais pick up the story just minutes after the last film ends. In fact, watching the two films back to back seems like the way to go, because the first 30 minutes or so of THE RAID 2 allow a quite-necessary decompression from the first film.
Uwais' rookie cop Rama thinks his life can return to normal, but this just isn't the case, as higher-level baddies from the criminal organization he has just disrupted now want his head on a spit, and he lands up being forced to go undercover to stop what will likely be a major threat to his family forever if he doesn't deal with it now. So naturally, he allows himself to be thrown into prison (leading to the mother of all muddy prison riots) so he can befriend a crime lord's son and eventually work his way up the organization's chain of command to cause some real damage. And that's all I really want to tell you about the plot, other than his plan both works and utterly fails, bringing upon him the full wrath of this crime organization, including its unique assassins and resident scene stealers "Hammer Girl" (Julie Estelle) and "Baseball Bat Man" (Very Tri Yulisman), who just pummel like nobody's business.
Evans and Uwais double handedly created the Indonesian action genre, and with THE RAID 2 they've constructed a very different beast from even the first film, let alone every action movie that has come before it. There are action movies, and then there are THE RAID films, which add a layer of pain and brutality that simply wouldn't be acceptable in Western actioners before, but might be soon. But part of the strength of Evans's writing is giving each character a reason for every fight; there's an emotional component to each action sequence, which American films are just beginning to tap into (see CAPTAIN AMERICAN: THE WINTER SOLDIER this weekend for a small taste of it).
One of the most amusing aspects to THE RAID 2 is how often Uwais is sidelined to make room for the half-dozen or so other major players in the film, eager to kick his and each other's asses. There are a trio of bad guys, each vying for power and willing to double and triple cross the others to get it. You must remember that Rama isn't just trying to stop the bad guys; he wants them dead and himself alive so he can return to the family he cares about very much, so sometimes simply allowing the villains to take each other out is the right call.
From all accounts, Evans has at least one more of these babies (RAID-bies?) in him, and then I'll be ready to see what else he's got for us. But it's so rare to watch a director establish himself so immediately that you almost don't realize that you're seeing a genre of film being reworked and made better. Whether the rest of the action world tries to follow suit or if Evans ends up being the lone wolf of Indonesia, churning out death-defying/embracing films that you feel in your bones remains to be seen, but THE RAID 2 is a step even further over the cliff of greatness.