Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vernal Viewing: The Raid 2

Having just expanded across the United States and playing in 954 theaters, The Raid 2 comes riding a festival and word of mouth hype train following the success of 2011's fan favorite, The Raid:  Redemption.  Picking up after the events of it's predecessor, hero cop and badass fighter Rama (Iko Uwais) is recruited to go deep cover in a bid to take down high levels of organized crime.  A 2 year stint in prison gets him next to the son of a feared crime boss and upon release, Rama goes to work for the family.  Aggressive expansion, ambitious purpose, turf war with Yakuza and lots and lots of violence ensues.

As an action movie and martial arts fan, The Raid 2 left me with conflicted feelings.  Somewhere, in this 140 minute running time is a 95 minute classic.  Like many films today, The Raid 2 suffers from in my opinion, being too Damme long and thinking that an extended run time will equal more gravitas.  From the 2.5 hour indulgence Django Unchained, the nothing much happens Hunger Games:  Catching Fire, five endings Divergent to this, there's a fine line between trying to build an epic and just plain pummeling your audience with low key fluff intended to hype the ending.  The last hour is fantastic, if they could have set up the film faster then moved into the final showdown(s), I think you would have had something really special.

Writer/Director Gareth Evans and team again deliver some truly awe inspiring, jaw dropping, cringe inducing, holy shit action set pieces involving cars, fisticuffs, machetes, baseball bats, hammers and more on the streets, in a muddy prison yard, a subway car and warehouses with plenty of broken limbs, maimed bodies and bloody aftermath galore.  What Evans is able to capture practically is impressive, you never feel like you're watching green screen or stunt doubles or unable to tell what's happening.  Many of the hand to hand sequences are done in long takes with the action clearly discernible.  While elaborate choreography is on full display, I feel a lack of simple technical physical prowess is missing.  Nary a high kick is thrown but there's the tired, "front kick while leaning back and yelling" for days.  While we don't live in an age where high kicking specimens Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White or Jean-Claude Van Damme can headline theatrical films, I missed their acrobatic muscular grace.

For a film this long, there just isn't enough story to sustain the space between action sequences.  They might have been aiming to make a gritty, urban, organized crime epic but it's not like we're talking the layered nuance of Heat or The Godfather here.  The beats are very familiar and expected, simply highlighted by brutal, brutal action scenes that for me, were almost too much.  That was the problem Jackie Chan had in trying to break the Western audience, he was all about the action but we just can't handle that much action with no story or characters, no matter how flimsy.  When Chan blended comedy with action, POW! we got enjoyable romps Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon.  Action without context or care is pointless.  Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, JCVD, Stallone and Arnold all had personality and charisma.  They were put into simple situations as underdogs and fought their way out.  Deep down we knew they were going to win but we still rooted for them and took the journey with them.  Here, Rama's story and characterization is nearly non-existent.  We don't really care if he busts these guys or makes it back to his wife and kid who are thrown in to remind us that he's fighting for something.  He's already been gone for 2 years, what's a few more months?

Violence in film has always been a hot topic and while it may sound hypocritical that I found one movie too violent than another, I walked away from The Raid 2 thinking, that was too much and feeling a little dirty.  While Lee, Van Damme and Arnold's antics inspired me to become a better and more well rounded person.  Just the changing of the seasons, I suppose.

Sunday driving:

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