A sequel to a great film has to find a Goldilocks zone between two guaranteed recipes for failure. Should the sequel exploit the success of the original and attempt to re-tell the same story, it will feel derivative and add nothing. This is epitomized by The Hangover sequels. At the other end of the spectrum, if a sequel departs completely from the original, it feels isolated and disconnected, leading an audience to feel cheated of what they loved from the originals. The greatest sequels in film history use the characters and world from the originals and expand upon them. Like The Godfather Part II, a great sequel can delve deeper into major characters and explore their motivations outside of their original context from the earlier film. Or, like Aliens, it can utilize the critical component of the original in an entirely new environment or genre of story. The Raid 2, from Gareth Evans, accomplishes both of these feats by taking the Rama character (Iko Uwais, again doubling as the lead fight choreographer) from the original and placing him undercover in pursuit of an organized crime syndicate. Here we get to explore more of Rama’s world and character, and we are rewarded well for our journey.
The original film (reviewed here) was fairly contained, taking place almost entirely within a single apartment building. The Raid 2 opens mere hours after the events of the original, and the world-building begins immediately. Rama meets the person he was told to ask for at the end of The Raid, and this man describes to Rama how far-reaching is the arm of Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), the head of the crime family in control of the original big bad. In an effort to reach the very top, Rama’s involvement with the police raid team is expunged, and he violently assaults a man who had threatened Bangun’s son, Uco (Arifin Putra), who is currently imprisoned. Thus, when Rama is arrested for the assault, he is in a prime position to befriend Uco and infiltrate the family, a la The Departed/Infernal Affairs. The story that follows is altogether subtle, exciting, and complex, and certainly will reward multiple viewings for reasons beyond the eye-popping fight sequences.
Where The Raid 2 ascends beyond most action movies, though, is how it marries action sequences and martial arts with plot elements. For all the strengths of the original film, The Raid was fairly one-dimensional and nearly without plot, with the exception being some magnificent character moments and the heart and weight of the climactic battle. But, for the most part, the fight sequences merely move characters from point A to point B, and have little to do with meaningful forwarding of the plot. The Raid 2 transcends the genre by using the action to advance the plot, provide characterization, and explain character motivations to boot.
Of perhaps a dozen different fight sequences in the movie, there are maybe one or two from which you cannot derive additional cinematic meaning. As an example from early in the film, Rama is sitting in the prison yard, with Uco a few feet away from him on the bench (and neither are really friends at this point). First, Rama is focused on Uco, and worried that a fight will break out between them. Then, when Rama sees a trio of assailants walking towards him, he recognizes that they are buddies of the dude that Rama beat up to put himself in jail. So, he braces for a fight, and observes that these men are targeting not him – but Uco! Immediately, the tone of the scene shifts, because if these men kill Uco, then Rama will not be able to befriend him and infiltrate the family, thereby making his imprisonment an irrevocable waste. Now, Rama springs to Uco’s aid, and the two fight side-by-side in the mud of the prison yard, ultimately becoming allies. The result is a fantastic fighting sequence which included tension, subterfuge, a character’s motivation changing from self-preservation to manipulation, and a beautiful plot element with such strength that we are able to completely believe that Rama would be accepted into Uco’s family business with open arms in the very next scene, despite a two-year jump in time.
This is merely a single sampling of the kind of action sequences that take place throughout the 150-minute run time of The Raid 2 (yeah, that’s a full hour longer than the original!). And dear god are there some amazing ones. You will be stunned into a slack-jawed gape as the characters known only as Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man wield their eponymous instruments of death during a mob war. After seeing Rama’s martial prowess expressed out in the open so often, you’ll marvel as he fights four men while sitting bitch in the backseat of a midsize sedan. And the final one-on-one fight with the other master practitioner of silat is both brilliant and exhausting, almost as though the winner will be the one who can withstand the most punishment. The sequences are heart-pounding, horrific, and brutal, yet their ultimate satisfaction lay in the feeling that they have a clear purpose. Today we exist in a cinematic landscape where dreck like Godzilla earns over half of a billion dollars without even basic elements of character and plot being fleshed out, much less derived from what passes for “action”. This base landscape is quick to throw away a pearl like The Raid 2, though it is richer than all the tribe of Marvel. Dive for this pearl among the meaningless depths of Taken 3, Iron Man 2, and Furious 7, readers, and discover the greatest action film (and franchise) of the decade – if not the century.