(On Cable TV, December 2014) I really thought I’d like this movie more. After all, I’m a big fan of the original The Raid, which managed to bring back the best in action moviemaking (long shots, focused premise, physical stunts from the actors) in a tight and intense package. I love the Asian tradition of action filmmaking, and The Raid 2 got rave reviews ever since its festival debut. Alas, and this may be more of a reflection of the way I have to watch movies these days, it quickly became obvious that The Raid 2 was going to be interminable. Clocking at a hefty 150 minutes, The Raid 2 seems lost in subplots, too-similar in its execution and diffuse when it should have been as tightly plotted as its predecessor. There are two or three prologues, far too many fights that look the same, and an overall blandness to it all. I was unexplainably bored through much of it, my patience (and available time) sorely tested by the results. Fortunately, there are highlights. In a film that’s too long, the car chase feels too short. Director Gareth Evans shows that he’s one of the best action directors of the moment by letting his trained actors show what they can do in a series of long shots. The cinematography is occasionally impressive, and it I had been in a mood to better appreciate the twists and turns of the sprawling plot, I’m sure I would have been a bit more upbeat about the result. While I reserve the right to change my mind after a more relaxed viewing, I reluctantly concede that The Raid 2 is a bit of a dud as far as I’m concerned: too long, to meandering and too unfocused to best serve the incredible action sequences that it contains.
(On DVD, June 2013) There’s been a surprising dearth of competent action-moviemaking lately; the rise of Bourne-inspired shakycam directing, coupled with the apparent decline of the Hong Kong film industry have led to more generic action movies without flair or excitement. But here comes relief from an unexpected source: Welsh expat Gareth Evans, working within the Indonesian film industry to produce a bone-crunching martial-arts extravaganza. The best thing about The Raid is its simplicity, as policemen stage a raid against a multistory mob safe-house. When things don’t go as planned, it’s up to a lone cop (Iko Uwais, quite credible as an action hero) to punch, kick and smash his way back out of the building, taking down a crime-lord along the way. (Yes, Dredd also worked along the same lines. In this case, similarity is not a bad thing.) The premise works best as a thread on which to hang the action set-pieces, all of which are directed with a generous helping of long takes allowing the action to shine. Those long takes also reinforce the brutal nature of the fights, the punishment endured by the characters and the sense that the stuntmen are truly earning their money on this film. There are a few extra flourishes of emotional connections here and there, but The Raid largely remains focused on the action scenes, and that works to everyone’s benefit. Lean and mean, The Raid is one of the strongest pure-action films of the past decade, and it brings to mind the heydays of the Hong Kong action film industry –high praise indeed.