It’s moments after the frenzied fight to the death of The Raid: Redemption
and rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) is understandably tired. He has, after all, just finished obliterating about two hundred crime-dudes, one by one, with his fists and feet and ability to turn walls into murder weapons.
But… it turns out that the people he ruined in that multi-story killing trap were small potatoes. The power players – the bosses and their henchmen, the politicians and the cops on the take -- are all on the outside. And if Rama can’t get to them then not only will all his pencak silat have been in vain, but his wife and son will be tracked down and killed. As one character puts it, the entire organism must be crushed or the body will just grow new limbs.
To that end Rama goes deep undercover into prison for a years-long operation, ingratiating himself to Uco (Arifin Putra), the petulant, impatient son of an underworld boss (Tio Pakusodewo) and becoming indispensible to the mechanics of the criminal system, all in the name of taking down the entire lot.
Then the face-breaking happens. And that’s why you’re here.
Director Gareth Evans kicks it off with a nod to the first film and its tightly enclosed fighting rings as Uwais takes on dozens of brawlers in a tiny restroom stall. But The Raid 2’s departure from the previous installment’s hermetically sealed death box – Rama, at one point, says, “I don’t want to spend my time acting tough in toilets” -- makes for both opportunities to expand the action and challenges of pacing and presentation.
The fight scenes are gory and glorious, exhausting and overwhelming, an endless array of ways to kill. Uwais, full of simmering rage and a dead-eyed stare, is the Gene Kelly of a rain-soaked prison battle that becomes a brutal death orgy of mud-eating, tibia-snapping, skull-crushing and throat-stabbing. Later a subway fight with claw hammers makes everything in Midnight Meat Train feel timid. There is death by baseball. There is death by kitchen appliance. There are shotguns blowing off faces. THIS GOES ON FOR 150 MINUTES.
A story of underworld allegiances and moral futility grows out of the down time between martial art murders, a routine tale of crime and its dehumanizing effects that occasionally threatens to slow everything to an evil crawl. It was necessary, of course; something more than a second building was required, a narrative that took the outside world into account. But that means characters have to talk, an activity that held almost no interest for The Raid: Redemption. And when they open their mouths, they say the sorts of things gangsters all tend to say. Some would like more power. Others would like to negotiate with rival gangs for the ongoing existence of their mutually beneficial business. Some would like -- see? You don’t care at all, do you? You want more fighting. Evans seems to want that, too.
The director favors editing to match the frenzy, but it doesn’t supplant the meticulous, intensely physical battle work accomplished by the enormous cast (Uwais served as fight choreographer). Instead, that camera's chop and crunch -- sometimes employing long takes, rare in action films -- yanks the story away from its moral center and bitter realities and amplifies the strenuous dance of killing, forcing the annihilation front and center, reminding everyone who dares to keep looking of the series' entire reason to exist. Expect more of the insane same from the already-planned third chapter. And rest up.