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Movie Review: 'The Raid 2' (2014)

Director Gareth Evans’ desire to top his previous action extravaganza “The Raid: Redemption” is an understandable one. However, his methods for intensifying the action and heightening the adventure in “The Raid 2” tread dangerously near the “one step forward, two steps back” adage. The severity and bloodshed has been kicked up several notches for the sequel, which undoubtedly lends an air of ferocity and tension rarely witnessed in such films. But when every fight scene is heaped in gruesome dismemberments and gratuitous splatter, a general desensitization to violence occurs that suppresses any particular moment from standing above the rest. Numbing the audience to the carnage doesn’t negate the ingenuity behind the kinetic camera movements and gloriously hyperactive combat choreography, but it does diminish some of the fun to be had from remarkable villains and their unusual accessories. “The Raid: Redemption” was a breath of fresh air in the martial arts genre and while this second part might leave the viewer barely able to catch their breath, the heavy influences from Western cinema and a lack of restraint in the brutality department prove counterproductive to newfound creativity.

After bringing down a notable Jakarta slum lord, rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) learns from anti-corruption task force leader Bunawar (Cok Simbara) that his only chance of protecting his family and evading more prominent members of Indonesian organized crime is to erase himself from the files and go undercover. Assuming a new identity as “Yuda,” Rama inserts himself in prison where he befriends Uco (Arifin Putra), the only son of influential mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Once released, Yuda begins work for the family doing menial strong-arm and collection tasks alongside Uco. But when the brash, impatient heir to the empire decides to wait no longer, he sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events that will pit Yuda against the most powerful rulers of Indonesia’s criminal underworld – and the most dangerous assassins in their employ.

When everything is extreme, nothing is extreme. Gareth Evans and his team have concocted some of the most impressive action sequences in recent memory, but insist upon focusing on Cronenberg-like body horror levels of destructiveness - as if to comment on the fragility of human flesh. Ignoring advice from thrillers of yore, absolutely nothing is left to the imagination (including throat slicing, gunshot wounds, and burnt skin). It takes away from the amusement of the martial arts when unimaginably ruthless violence is used to fill up moments of exposition that have nothing to do with pulse-pounding choreography.

Ultimately, this intense sequel doesn’t have the swift pacing and simple premise to transition from one fight to the next. Evans appears to have watched far too many American gangster films, borrowing heavily from “The Godfather,” “Casino,” “Eastern Promises,” and “The Departed” to populate what should have been a moderate 90-minute running time. “The Raid 2” is a whopping 2 hours and 28 minutes.

Still, it’s difficult not to be enticed by a film that features “Hammer Girl” and “Baseball Bat Man” in the top-billed cast. Taking a gimmick from James Bond flicks, a bevy of henchmen possess unique, easily identifiable weaponry and physical characteristics to set them apart from the primary fodder of factory workers and street thugs. While the plot mixes in these adversaries as a ladder of formidable foes the hero must conquer, it’s the unexpectedly riveting car chase and camerawork that remain most memorable. And this is after the plot gets more complex, characters more numerous, and downtime lengthier. In fact, the only thing that decreases is the quantity of fight scenes.

Slapping a Fu Manchu getup on returning fight choreographer Yayan Ruhian (who unforgettably played “Mad Dog” in the first film), in a flimsy attempt to insert him back onto the screen, doesn’t achieve the homage it hopes for. And the multiple layers of corruption and turf war complications merely slow down the speediness vital to an exploitation feature. Lacking re-watch value due to its lengthiness (and extremeness), “The Raid 2” does manage to deliver unequaled payoff in the form of repugnantly over-the-top, climactic showdown mayhem, which arguably rivals the tremendous finale of the previous effort. It just takes so long to get there.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)