I know what you want to hear. You want to hear that The Raid 2 is bigger, badder and bolder than the first one. That somehow Gareth Evans managed to up his game exponentially in this sequel to one of the most gloriously violent movies of all time. To his credit, The Raid 2 is in every way a bigger more ambitious movie, offering a more elaborate story, a slew of new characters, and bigger battle ratios. But sometimes more isn't better; it's just more.
The Raid 2 picks up shortly after the story of The Raid: Redemption left off. Rama (Iko Uwais) has brought Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) to the authorities; the wounded Bowo (Tegar Satrya) is promptly excused to receive medical care. Then, a special internal branch of the police force offers Rama a dangerous mission he can't turn down. They want to topple the organized crime of Jakarta, and to do it they need an inside man. So, Rama goes undercover in prison to befriend Uco (Arifin Putra), the spoiled, power-hungry son of a top crime boss. Upon the pair's release, a power struggle ignites that makes Rama's real identity the least of his worries.
First off, it needs to be said that The Raid 2 is a sequel in only the most ornamental of terms. Evans, who wrote and directed the action-packed thriller, races to cut out every surviving character from the first film--save Rama--in the first ten minutes. From there, Rama's arc is overshadowed by the brooding quest of Uco to prove himself as a man/crime boss. Further muddying the waters of this so-called sequel is the recasting of Yayan Ruhian, who memorably played Mad Dog in the first film. He's back as a different hit man named Prakoso, this one cloaked in a ratty beard and bolstered with a tragic backstory. It's great to see him--and his outstanding martial arts skills--again, but it's nonetheless jarring. Really, The Raid 2 could too easily have been an entirely separate Jakarta-set crime drama chock-full of brutal battle scenes and a convoluted plot. But this could have been fine if it weren't so bogged down by too many ideas.
The Raid: Redemption was a slick and satisfying movie that not only offered stupendous and sickening fight scenes but also a tight plot that perfectly fueled the narrative. In the sequel, Evans once more offers jaw-dropping fight scenes full of surprises and lightning fast hand-to-hand combat, plus generous sprays of CGI blood. But they aren't as all-around successful this time. Part of the problem is the settings. In the first film, one battle after another broke out in dingy, grey apartments that were nearly identical. With nothing much to look at in the setting, audiences were able to tune in on the gloriously intense fight choreography. But when Evans throws his fighters in a flashy hibachi restaurant or a sprawling pit of mud packed with rioting prisoners, it's difficult to narrow in on the action, and the impact is lost.
Still, the bigger problem is that these fight scenes are nested in an overly complicated mafia plot that bloats the running time to 150-minutes. As Uco strolls through a predictable pattern of frustration to betrayal, his and Rama's story is staggered by fight scenes, which makes them feel shockingly episodic. Worse yet, because so much attention goes to Uco's lackluster thread, other more intriguing elements--flashy new assassins Prakoso, Hammer Girl, and the less eye-catching Baseball Bat Man --are woefully underdeveloped. Sure, Hammer Girl looks cool as hell in the trailers, but don't expect much more than that.
Don't get me wrong: The Raid 2 offers exactly the kind of pulse-pounding, mind-snapping fight scenes we came to expect because of the sensational original. But Evans had no editing eye when it came to shaping his story, and as such the film feels more like a rant than a cohesive narrative, or a powerful part two to Rama's tale. There are just too many ideas here. Rama's adventure is sidelined for Uco's story. Uco's story eats up tons of screentime, leaving little room for the proper development of the sequel's more compelling characters, or even a solid build for Rama's thread. The lop-sided narrative deadens the emotional impact of the deadly finale. As someone who was positively crazy over The Raid: Redemption, it pains me to say it, but The Raid 2 is half wildly entertaining, and half a slog.