By: Bradley Hadcroft
I was very lucky to be afforded the opportunity to experience The Raid 2 at a special uncut preview screening organized by #1 U.K. horror festival, Frightfest. Director Gareth Evans along with stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian were in attendance. They were humble, funny and insightful by turns but their let-off-the-chain-and-stand-back beast of a film was the star here. Make no mistake, The Raid 2 is the real deal, effortlessly living up to its own hype whilst gleefully sticking two fingers up to the censors and kicking so-called action blockbusters nonchalantly in the balls.
Director Gareth Evans edits his fight sequences on set with only seconds between calling cut and viewing the footage, and boy does it show! Never before has such intensity and energy been harnessed on-screen. This tornado of a film sticks a claw hammer into the throat of the action genre and drags its twitching, bloody corpse into a new era.
It’s no surprise to learn that Gareth Evans nearly died on set because The Raid 2 doesn’t just raise the bar in on-screen mayhem so much as smash you mercilessly over the head with it. No part of the frail human frame is safe as an exhaustive itinerary of violent aberrations is checked off on our journey to Planet Pain. Broom handles, cooking surfaces, baseballs, granite walls, and the like are all used to great effect for blunt trauma purposes, and you will lose count of the slashed tendons and throats from scalpels and giant machetes and everything in-between.
All of the fare on this all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of gore is achieved with the most seamless and natural-looking effects work I have ever seen. This casual realism is what stops the film slipping into cartoon territory, or even worse, committing the cardinal sin of making the viewer feel like they are watching a video game. The sound design is pitch perfect and, when in tandem with the world class practical effects, it causes many-a timid eye to be averted from the proceedings.
How does the film handle the dramatic side of things? A few set pieces into this untameable adrenalin machine and you may not care. You may just be transfixed like a rabbit in its juggernaut sized headlights, your jaw on the floor wondering which piece of set decoration will be inserted into whom next; but wait, this is where the movie shows the full extent of its bravado and range.
Such is the lurid intensity of the action sequences that any lull in the action for plot advancement takes on a different contextual purpose. It really does feel like a well-earned breather. They create a window for the poor beleaguered audience to take stock of their battered senses, whilst stealing themselves for the next brutal assault. As such the plot is nothing we haven’t seen before yet a lot of loving care has gone into the dramatic side of things with some great performances from the cast.
Arifin Putra (Macabre) is one of many people having a whale of a time being totally evil but he is a particularly nasty piece of work, slimy and manipulative above and beyond the call of duty. His power-hungry machinations carry the bulk of the undercover-cop-in-peril segment of the film, as well as providing the impetus for the most horrific and disturbingly casual mass murder sequence you will ever see. Elsewhere, Iko Uwais reprises his leading man role, utilizing his serene real-life demeanour to clever effect. This allows the audience to invest emotionally in him whilst he is slicing his opponents to crimson ribbons and snapping limbs like asparagus sprigs.
Yayan Ruhian also does some sterling work, returning in a completely different role from the original film’s Mad Dog. Mr Ruhain specializes in a breathing technique that leaves him impervious to pain, perfect then for playing hired assassin and one-man murder storm, Prakoso. It is Prakoso’s tale of paternal angst and mixed loyalties that allows Evans his most dramatic flourishes, including stealing from - shock horror - Kubrick himself! There is also a cameo from claycat – on the run from Lee Hardcastle's hilarious tribute animation – see if you can spot him.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement of The Raid 2 is to be found in its editing. Yes, the film’s action set pieces are honed to perfection with razor sharp accuracy but it’s the bigger picture, the long haul if you like, that is most impressive. The build factor of the movie feels naturally progressive and unforced with each scene growing in intensity towards the inevitable behemoth of a climax.
Evans kick-starts this steady escalation off the violence charts with the introduction of a couple of superbly conceived concept characters. The arrival of Tarantino wet dream, Hammer Girl and the super cool Baseball Bat Man signifies a definite upping of the ante, and reveals the intention of the film towards the iconic.
The gorgeous Julie Estelle endured a four day audition for the role of mute toolbox plundering psychopath, Hammer Girl before Evans was convinced she could nail the role. She then trained for a further six months to seem believable as she tie-dyes her pretty white dress with pulped human. This encapsulates the level of authenticity and commitment that envelopes The Raid 2. Hammer Girl will get all the love but for me, it’s Baseball Bat Man who rocks it hardest. He doles out some of the film’s most emphatic beatings and his affections for Hammer Girl are strangely effecting. He even has a cheeky catch phrase, which incidentally is where you might sense a slight shift in tone from Evans.
As a director, Evans really shows his intelligence here as he knows he cannot plumb the murky depths of ultra violence such is his want without concessions of some kind to the audience. He knows that one masterful car chase sequence later, leaving The Fast and the Furious franchise fans pissing in the corner like scolded dogs, things are going to get even darker. So what of that inevitable Behemoth of a climax?
Evans confesses that it’s far easier to shoot a group fight scene than a one-on -one match so of course a film that quite literally pulls no punches is going to keep it honest and man up. So catch your breath again and strap yourself in. Ten thirteen-hour days of intensive filming with performers who know no compromise produced 197 shots that bind together to create quite simply the greatest fight scene in the history of cinema.
The Raid 2 is the film you didn’t think anyone would have the guts to make. It’s the movie that will reaffirm your belief in the action genre and change the way you perceive on-screen violence forever. Most of all, it will make you fall in love with cinema again as you gasp, wince, and grin with your fellow filmgoers, united by the infectious chaos unfolding before you. Go and see it.
The Raid 2 is in U.S. Cinemas now and in the U.K. on the 11th April 2014. Gareth Evans confirmed that The Raid 3 is already going ahead and starts its timeline after The Raid: Redemption but two hours before The Raid 2.