If you had asked me Sunday afternoon what was the best film I had seen this year, I would have told you that it was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. By the time evening rolled around, I would have given you a different answer, The Raid 2. I walked out of the movie theater feeling dazed and drained. I felt like I had been through an ordeal that other people who hadn’t witnessed it couldn’t understand. I went to dinner after the film with three other people who saw it. It took us nearly an hour before we began discussing the film. This wasn’t because we were reluctant to talk about it, but just because it took us that long to really get our minds around what we had just seen.
Holy shit, that movie.
I love The Raid. Its use and framing of action is nothing short of revolutionary. The scope of the story is contained and remains true even when it drastically changes tones. The tonal changes are believable and well executed. The charisma of Iko Uwais is palpable. The only flaws result from a story that never quite delivers the impact that it wants and that some of the acting is a little rough. This second point is mitigated when it’s subtitled instead of dubbed, but it’s still a little rough around the edges. The story never quite takes off, and the final act introduces a few names and beats that fail to really do anything to help further the larger plot. Luckily, the small plot is awesome and I’ll argue that point to the grave. Anyway, let’s say it was largely amazing and praise-worthy.
The Raid 2 is just better. It’s a sequel that understands that it doesn’t need to do what has been done before, because it already did that. It tells a different story, with a different feel, with different scope, and retains everything that made the first a success. It’s a story of corruption, crime, and legacy. It also happens to have action so well done that it makes American cinema weep.
If this embarrassment of riches isn’t enough, it also does things with cinematography and the framing of shots that are astounding. Action is often offset within a shot, and the eye is intentionally drawn elsewhere to provide a contrast to what is occurring. It’s done sparingly, so it doesn’t become trite or cloying. The film goes out of the way to show you parts of Indonesia and heavily contrast that with the squalor and violence that exists elsewhere in the country. It’s excellently done.
It’s almost unfair that Gareth Evans has shown so much growth so quickly. The action is still here in spades, but now it’s coupled with a much stronger story, a more fully realized cast, and even better pacing. The film is long, but never once was I bored or disinterested. The story is not told just through dialogue, and once again uses action to push both character arcs and narrative.
Man, this action is good. There is no waste here. Not once did I ever think a scene went on too long or was here for the sake of action. This includes one of the best car chases I have seen in a long time. That’s right, this film has a car chase scene that is good enough to be the climax in any other film. It also has the best fight scene I have seen maybe ever. This is in addition to the numerous fight scenes that are straight up “holy shit” amazing.
The car chase takes place following an encounter that the protagonist loses. This loss tells us a lot about the state of mind of Rama in particular, but also does some amazing things for the rest of the cast and the story. During the loss, Rama straight up ignores the real threat in the room in order to try and get a fast shot at the main villain. It doesn’t work, and it shows a side of Rama that isn’t’ seen elsewhere. Here’s a guy who’s been through hell and sees his only hope being snatched away from him via the death of the until-then crime lord that Rama had been infiltrating. He then saves a guy he believes to be a criminal, and can’t control himself to fight effectively. It’s a short scene, but crams so much into what is otherwise an action film.
The follow-up scene is the car chase. This scene carries not only a bad ass car chase complete with dudes with machine guns, motorcycles, crashes, shotguns, and murder by semi-trucks, but ALSO a tense close-quarters fight between Rama and his captives inside a moving SUV. This scene has slick driving, a tour of Jakarta, crazy awesome martial arts, character building (why the hell is Eka trying to save Rama?), and it ends with a direct motivation for the final act and a really nice reveal that serves to also question even more motives of other characters. It is seriously so good. The best part? This isn’t the climax. It would be in just about any other damn movie ever made, probably with one final bad guy stand off following the resolution. Just not in this movie.
The climax is instead a series of fights that sort of looks like a funnel. It progresses from large scale brawl to tight-quarter multi-party fight to one on one action. That one on one action sequence? Maybe the best fight scene I have ever seen in my life. It’s both awe inspiring and brutal as shit. It is visceral as hell. Just when you think the fight is about to end there is more. Then? There is more after that. However, it never feels like a slog. Instead, it feels like you just sat through an emotional marathon and are exactly as exhausted as the people fighting. It’s goddamn unreal how good that scene is. It also shows character development in Rama that is hitherto unseen. This whole sequence is him going full-on revenge. He’s seeing his job in a new light, and he doesn’t like it. It’s both cathartic and sad at the same time. In fact, you even feel bad that Rama has to kill some of the other guys he ends up killing. It’s a no-one-wins situation, and the movie pulls it off beautifully.
The very last scene is amazing in its way, too. It’s a mostly silent scene that plays out slowly and features Rama talking to one of the other characters in the film. You have no idea what is really being said, instead relying on the viewer to fill in the subtext. Which version of the conversation is he really having? Who knows, but his answer is the same as where I am with this post, “I’m done”.