Sundance 2014: 'The Raid 2' - Insane Action Hits Legendary Heights
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2014
In this vibrant and ever-expanding world of cinema, it's rare that we ever get to experience something truly incredible in its concept and execution, something so amazing that it pushes an entire genre to new heights. That happened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday night, as Gareth Evans' premiered his 2-1/2 hour sequel The Raid 2, and I believe he's pulled off something akin to The Dark Knight of action movies. It is a sequel that is much bigger, more ambitious, and considerably more epic in scope than the first, yet exceeds all expectations and achieves levels of legend in terms of martial arts action intertwined with story.
In my years of writing about cinema, it's only every so often that I get to experience something as historic as the screening that I sat through at Sundance on Tuesday. It will be an event of legend in years to come, for reasons that go beyond just the film itself. The cut of The Raid 2 that Gareth Evans screened at Sundance was a freshly finished 148-minute version that the MPAA has not had a chance to look at, meaning it was as brutal, relentless and insanely violent as it could possibly be. This film isn't for everyone, and I heard about many walk-outs from people who just couldn't handle the "disgusting" level of violence. But for those that can sit through this, it's an experience unlike any before, perhaps one of the best action movies ever made.
Whereas The Raid: Redemption can be compared to Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, The Raid 2 is vastly more extensive and complex. I don't think it's too crazy to compare this sequel to iconic sequels like The Dark Knight, Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II. Picking up hours after the first film ends, Evans crafts an expansive story that delves deep into corruption in Indonesia, introducing an ever-increasing cast of characters that moves beyond just Rama, played again by the incomparable Iko Uwais, and Mad Dog, played again by Yayan Ruhian. This time it goes all the way to the top, with multiple factions on the brink of war as well as Rama trying to defeat corruption once and for all; but he must get close to make a strike.
However, where The Raid 2 sets itself apart is in the action, the choreography, and the epic fights. When thinking of martial arts and hand-to-hand combat, there are the legends, from Bruce Lee to Tony Jaa to Jet Li; now we can definitely add Iko Uwais' name to that list. The fights in this movie, and the extraordinary camerawork that captures all of them seamlessly, were inventive and exceptional in every impossible way. From a massive prison fight in the mud filmed in one long take, to elaborate fights in multi-level clubs, to brutal showdowns in alleyways, and enormous kitchens, The Raid 2 sets a brand new precedent for action.
Everything that makes up this film, from the elaborate and often enormous sets, to the intense score, to the impressive cinematography throughout, to all the performances, fights and quieter moments, is astounding. Most of the time I couldn't believe what I was watching, my mind blown away by what I was experiencing: fight choreography that puts The Matrix (and the first The Raid too) to shame, cameras nearly destroyed attempting to follow and showcase the action in remarkable ways. The technical prowess on display in this film exceptional, and the film will be studied closely and used as a guide for action movies to come, but they won't even come close to replicating what they've mastered here. It's a film that is impossible to duplicate.
While I will say this was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my cinematic life, a near perfect action experience in every way, if there is anywhere I can find problems it's in the story (and the amount of brutal gore/blood from the violence, which many won't be able to handle). At times it becomes a bit too big for its own good, confusing for no useful reason, however it stays on course in the long run. It takes a simple story about one man making a difference and surrounds him with a trove of evil people, some of whom are given more background to turn them into human beings, rather than just killing machines. And it works, as Evans expands the limited story of the first into something that can at times be hard to follow, but still gripping.
Even though I know I just sat through a legendary moment in Sundance history, it's hard to believe that the film really exists, and is really as amazing as it is. Yet here I am, happily raving about a astonishing work of cinema that defies the limits of action movies, and takes the genre to a whole new level. Yes, it's extremely violent, yes it's long, but boy does it pack a punch. This is an experience I won't soon forget, and I feel lucky to have been there at the world premiere. To live up to its potential, The Raid 2 must next head out into the world and blaze the trails we know it will. Until then, it's hats off to Gareth Evans, who has swiftly earned his way into the pantheon of greatest action directors ever. This is one for the ages, a sequel to celebrate.
Alex's Sundance 2014 Rating: 9.8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing