The electrifying 2011 Indonesian martial-arts thriller “The Raid” was a certified action milestone. It told a coherent cops-and-killers story within the confines of a real-time SWAT assault. The story unspooled as Jakarta police fought floor to floor against a hive of villains housed in a 30-story high-rise. The bad guys, and many of the good, were blasted, punched, kicked and mashed off this mortal coil in some of the most creative and crowd-pleasing convolutions imaginable.
The movie’s pleasures were more than sophisticated and lavish violence. It also had moral heft, describing a world in which heroic sacrifice is necessary to protect society, but might not be lastingly effective.
The pleasure quotient is even higher in “The Raid 2.” It’s no carbon copy. Director Gareth Evans and star/action choreographer Iko Uwais work on a broader canvas here. They distribute an enormous amount of chasing and killing over several years and across the whole colorful geography of Jakarta. With its “Godfather”-like gallery of Machiavellian mobsters and vivid supporting characters, it charts the fall of a crime dynasty.
Rookie cop Rama (Uwais), the sparkplug of the earlier film’s assault, avoids mob retaliation on his family by going undercover in prison. There, his superior officer assures him, Rama can win the trust of the mob kingpin’s incarcerated son (Arifin Putra) and enter his inner circle, bringing down the family from the inside.
The film follows Rama’s disillusionment as he realizes his handlers are less trustworthy than he believed. Along the way it enumerates the myriad kinds of trauma that can be inflicted on the human form, each presented in a way that makes everyone in the theater go “Ewwww!” at once. Uwais tempers his lithe, Bruce Lee physicality with dramatic gravitas, especially in his scenes with graying gang lord Tio Pakusadewo.
Evans uses his sprawling 150-minute run time to give us breathers between shootouts, providing the audience a chance to reflect and perhaps realize that we should resist the visceral pleasure that screen violence can generate.
Yet the film never stints on kinetic, carefully choreographed mayhem, from a mud-drenched prison-yard riot to a next-level car chase that sets a new standard for automotive assault and battery.
There are misjudgments here, such as the extended subplot about the troubled life of a hobo assassin (Yayan Ruhian, who confusingly played a different character in the original “Raid”). There are odd moments of poetic surrealism, such as a death that occurs when the tropical metropolis is blanketed in snow. There are inspired touches as well. Julie Estelle’s “Hammer Girl” is a totally superfluous added character, but one that deserves her own action figure. And perhaps a line of claw hammers at Ace Hardware. “The Raid 2” succeeds in its main mission, kicking a prodigious amount of butt, including the viewers’.