Hollywood action pictures have changed drastically over the years. Where once the highlight revolved around choreographed fight scenes, we're now bombarded with CGI eye candy.
So it took a Welsh director (Gareth Evans) and an Indonesian cast to remind us how effective and entertaining visceral physical combat can be with 2011's "The Raid: Redemption." The film's simple concept of a police squad hunting a drug dealer in a well armed tenement was eclipsed by bravura Pencak silat (Indonesian martial arts) sequences. They were some of the most brutal and effective action sequences ever committed to cinema.
The 2014 sequel, "The Raid 2" (which arrived on Blu-ray on July 8, 2014) ups the violent action considerably, taking place shortly after the events of the first film. Lead character officer Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover inside a prison to infiltrate more corrupt gangsters. And after gaining the trust of a targeted inmate, he gains employment with a mobster organization upon his release. And then he goes to work by dismantling his enemies one at a time.
The plot is very similar to Hong Kong thriller "Infernal Affairs" and it's American remake "The Departed." But it's storyline is much thinner and harder to follow than those works, and also pales in comparison to the first film's narrative.
But it's the brutal fight scenes that astound; a chaotic assault on a muddy prison yard, a subway fight between a woman yielding hammers against an armed mob, a villain who can kill with a baseball bat, all these scenes are simple in nature but furious in execution. And the car chase which mixes martial arts combat with vehicular mayhem is some of the most inspired stunt work since George Miller's "The Road Warrior."
Uwais proves a capable hero, offering moments of vulnerability to offset his brutal physicality, and his foe, played by Arifin Putra is a complex and sometime sympathetic villain, which is refreshing and balances against the ugliness of the film. Evans also stages some beautiful sequences that proves he's interested in more than carnage.
But it is carnage that sells the film, even if it occasionally proves too much. At two and a half hours, the film could use some trimming, and the bloodshed would retain more impact if used more sparingly. And the lack of a confined environment makes it more sprawling and less economical than it's predecessor.
Regardless, "The Raid 2" delivers some of the best action scenes in ages, and for those who love high adrenaline filmmaking, it's as compelling as it's gets.
"The Raid 2" is rated R for extreme violence, and runs 150 minutes.