Sunday, July 30, 2017

"The Raid 2": review

2014's "The Raid 2" stars Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Cok Simbara, Julie Estelle, Alex Abbad, Tio Pakusadewo, Oka Antara, Cecep A. Rahman, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, and Kazuki Kitamura. It also brings back that incredible martial artist from the first film, Yayan Ruhian, in a very different (and arguably lesser) role. Whereas the first movie had the simplest of plots, "The Raid 2" is so over-plotted as to be hard to follow at times. I found it difficult to keep track of which henchman was working for which crime boss: the movie is all about the taking-down of several major crime families at once, with Rama (Uwais) going undercover as a spy whose job is to gather evidence and certify who is connected to whom, and how.

A one-paragraph summary of the plot might go like this: we begin barely two hours after the first movie ends, and during these two hours, we undo everything that had been established by the end of the first movie. If you saw the first movie, you'll recall that Rama's brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah) elects not to leave his life of crime because he's in his element and feels he can protect Rama; at the same time, Rama is taking the corrupt lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) to justice. When "The Raid 2" begins, Andi is killed by up-and-coming crime boss Bejo (Abbad), and Wahyu is killed on orders from Bunawar (Simbara), a Machiavellian police investigator who roots out police corruption in the manner of internal affairs. Bunawar tells the shocked Rama that there are bigger fish to fry, and that Rama needs to go undercover so that the investigators can take down much larger targets than mere foot soldiers like Wahyu. Rama is placed in prison, where his fighting skills gain him the attention of Uco (pronounced "ooh-cho": the Indonesian "c" is an English "ch") and, eventually, of Uco's crime-boss father, Bangun (Pakusadewo), who thanks Rama for saving his son. Two years pass with Rama in prison before he gets out and has the chance to meet Bangun. Meanwhile, Bunawar has hidden Rama's family to keep them safe; Rama himself has had his history as a policeman expunged to make it easier for him to penetrate the crime families. Bangun's crime family maintains an uneasy truce with a Japanese yakuza faction that has moved into Jakarta; Bangun's son Uco chafes at the need to be respectful around the Japanese, who he feels do not belong in the country. Uco also wants more responsibility, but his father thinks the young man is still too hotheaded and shortsighted to rise in the ranks. Meanwhile, young and ambitious Bejo believes it's time to take down the established families to make room for new blood, and Bejo catches the attention of Reza, a corrupt, high-ranking police official currently in a quiet partnership with the Japanese.

"The Raid 2," like its predecessor, features plenty of hilariously bloody action and violence. It also sports an actual plot, and it even delves into the inner lives of some of the minor characters, like Yayan Ruhian's Prakoso, a heavy who works for Bangun but is estranged from his own wife and son. But for a movie about a massive undercover op, "The Raid 2" is surprisingly short on suspense: I saw several wasted opportunities where Rama could have been discovered, but the criminals weren't savvy enough to suspect him. (The TV series "24" did a much better job of putting Jack Bauer in tense situations where his cover might be blown.) I'm also not sure what to make of the movie's morally ambiguous ending. Without revealing too much, I can say that, by the end of the story, Rama has accomplished only half of Bunawar's mission to take down all the major crime families in Jakarta. There are some major loose ends, which I suppose could be taken care of in a third movie. Finally, I'm ambivalent about sequels that undo much of the work accomplished in previous movies. It was a turn-off in "Alien 3," for example, when Newt and Hicks were killed off at the very beginning, an event that undermined those characters' efforts to survive the extraterrestrial onslaught in "Aliens." For "The Raid 2" to begin with the deaths of Andi and Wahyu, as a way of clearing the board for a new set of allies and antagonists, was a bit frustrating.

All the same, "The Raid 2" proved to be eminently watchable, and I enjoyed it. It's filled with brutal impacts, pulse-pounding chase sequences, loads of fight choreography, and even more gunplay than the first film. For those who came away from the first movie loving the action but wishing there had been a plot, "The Raid 2" makes up for that omission in spades.

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