When The Raid dropped here in 2012, it did so as both sneak attack and surprise knockout: a nifty spot of exploitation, engineered by a Welshman operating out of Indonesia, which not only surpassed those pretty good Tony Jaa vehicles imported from Thailand in the mid-Noughties (Ong-Bak, The Warrior King), but gestured towards a grungier version of that baroque style pioneered by John Woo in The Killer and Hard-Boiled. When it punched its way into multiplexes, it seemed as though this coiled, economical urban roustabout might just have the same legs and influence as its evident touchstone Die Hard.
The Raid 2, appropriately, follows the Die Hard 2 route, leaving behind the up-down verticality of its predecessor and instead moving sideways, using its enhanced budget and duration to explore surrounding structures. Our hero Rama (Iko Uwais), so lithe first time around, has himself been pumped up, the better to pass as a street thug – his goal being to infiltrate a nearby crime syndicate. It will be a film of twisting, shifting forms: just when you think you’ve got it pinned down as one kind of actioner, it wriggles clear, jumps headlong through a window, and pegs it round the corner.
If the extra money showcases one thing, it’s that Evans’ skill extends far beyond staging fisticuffs: for one, his near-architectural laying out of story space suggests we may be dealing with the Antonioni of the action movie. Rama’s momentum has elevated him to the penthouses-and-boardrooms set: there’s much red carpet on show, which conceals the bloodstains, and a close-quarters kerfuffle in a wine cellar, which may have been more expensive to shoot than the first film in toto.
Yet this director is still every bit as assured at narrative containment: honing in on telling character details between the flying feet to the face, finding the sweet spots between pressure and release. The smartly structured first fifteen minutes turn out to be flashbacks, whizzing through the necessary exposition as our hero barricades himself in a prison toilet cubicle, girding his loins for the army of ne’er-do-wells gathering beyond the door. Everyone’s waiting for the beast to be unleashed.
Of course, if you are just here to watch limbs bent and skulls getting smashed, there’s plenty of that, too – more imaginative carnage, spread over a far greater surface area. Evans has scored a real coup in staging the first five-man fistfight in a car in the middle of a high-speed pursuit: it’s at the point in this absolute turducken of a scene where he cuts to an overhead view of Uwais lamping the two passengers in front and back simultaneously – fusing Bruce Lee with Busby Berkeley – that a very good action movie vaults into the all-time hall of fame.
Generally, the director gets in close, refuting the skipped frames and frenetic chopping by which Hollywood action movies hedge for the commercially safe PG-13 certificate. In both shotmaking and the ruthlessly clean editing, Evans commits fully to his violence; it might prove horrifying it wasn’t just as often athletic, balletic or comic. Yet even as he expands the frame of reference – working in different fighting disciplines, murderous Japanese siblings, lethal baseball – he refuses to give up on the authentic scrappiness that powered the original, and which continues to let us know exactly where we are.
Because, for all the extra dollars, The Raid 2 keeps it real: whether tracking a pitched scrum in a muddy rec yard, a dust-up in the gents’ bogs or an armed mob rampaging through a low-rent nightclub, this is still the kind of movie you’d expect a director who’s clearly seen Cardiff of a Saturday evening might make in a country with somewhat relaxed health-and-safety legislation. The Raid could have stood as a fluke, even as it announced Evans as someone to watch; the sequel, 148 minutes in which every last hit registers, affirms him as a straight-up master of the form.
(MovieMail, April 2014)
The Raid 2 screens on Channel 4 tonight at 1.35am.