For those few of you who haven’t yet seen it, 2011’s The Raid is an utterly fantastic little film, built up of jaw-dropping action set pieces on an incredibly simple chassis. Essentially a reverse-siege movie, with a handful of cops climbing a tower populated almost entirely by vicious criminals. (A formula that would also be employed the following year in Dredd.) It’s a straightforward film that relies almost completely on its skillful execution and breathtaking fight scenes for its effectiveness. The Raid 2, on the other hand, is something completely different.
Where the first movie was an uncomplicated (albeit perfectly executed) beat-em-up, The Raid 2 is an Elizabethan tragedy with more punching and kicking. Taking place over years, it sees empires rise and fall, and is full to bursting with betrayals, vengeance, family honor, family feuds, and tragedies both large and small. In addition to the countless unnamed extras who populate any martial arts film, it still boasts a cast of dozens of characters, almost all of whom have more going on than you ever see on screen, and it ends, as any good Elizabethan tragedy will, with a literal pile of corpses. In attempting to describe it to a friend over the phone, I said that it was what would happen if Shakespeare had written Ong-bak. I stand by that.
I was lucky enough to see The Raid 2 during its brief theatrical run earlier this year, though I didn’t get an opportunity to pen this review until now, when it is recently out on DVD and Blu-ray. Having watched it twice, I can vouch that it holds up. It’s a stunning film, and if it doesn’t quite have the impact that watching its predecessor for the first time did, that’s only because my expectations for this one were already so high going in, whereas the first time I saw The Raid I had no idea what I was getting into.
The best thing that any sequel can ever do is to be as good as or better than its predecessor, while also going in a completely different direction. Measured by that rubric, The Raid 2 is pretty much as good as sequels ever come. Rumor has it there’s a Raid 3 on the horizon. Hopefully it can continue to distinguish itself by pushing what has become one of the best action franchises in recent memory even further into newer and bigger directions. In the meantime, if you’ve already seen The Raid and The Raid 2, it’s worth your while to track down writer/director Gareth Evans’ previous film Merantau. It’s not as ambitious as The Raid or The Raid 2, but it serves as a perfect complement to the director’s better-known films.