With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. Gareth Evans’s The Raid 2 is up.
The Raid: Redemption pretty much blew my mind. Perfectly contained, stunningly choreographed and – above all – absolutely brutal, it still stands as one of the 21st century’s great martial arts films. It remains hard to believe that this concentrated 90 minutes of balls-to-the-wall Indonesian intensity was directed and written by Gareth Evans, a big, lovable guy from Wales who’d only taken an interest in martial arts at the suggestion of his girlfriend. With Evans combining with truck-driver-turned-badass Iko Uwais for the second time (the two had already worked together on the occasionally badass – and often accidentally hilarious – Merantau), The Raid: Redemption was a perfect storm of manic intensity, garnering international success and no shortage of adoration from both public and critical viewpoints.
A sprawling and endearingly humorous crime epic packed with peerless fight scenes, The Raid 2 is the greatest action film ever made
I was lucky enough – no, blessed – to attend the first ever public screening of The Raid 2. I was at Sundance (somehow wangling my way there on critic-centric pretences) and ended up all but begging Merantau Films’s PR team for a ticket. After much humiliation and boot-licking, I got my wish, and, on an inevitably frigid Tuesday night in Park City, Utah, I sat back to enjoy the most transcendent two and a half hours I’ve ever experienced in a cinema. A sprawling and endearingly humorous crime epic packed with peerless fight scenes and a car chase that all but defies belief, The Raid 2 is the greatest action film ever made.
The hype for the all but inevitable sequel to The Raid (Evans had everyone from cinema audiences to the Indonesian government clamouring for a follow-up) was frankly massive, yet The Raid 2 delivered more on literally every level, making it that rarest of beasts: the sequel that actually improves on the original. Taking Redemption’s claustrophobic story of one man’s fight out of a really rather hostile tower block, Evans has expanded his hyper violent universe in sprawling style. Gone are the cramped corridors and muted browns and greys of Redemption, in are massive-scale pitched battles and a colour palette that would leave Wes Anderson drooling.
Stepping this far from Redemption’s setup while still remaining faithful to its roots was a ballsy step, but Evans eased us into it with a mass of variously bonkers and fascinating characters. Was there a better double team this year than Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man? Has there ever been a more perfect haircut than the one placed lovingly on conflicted bad guy Uco’s bonce? Or, for that matter, was there a more welcome (and mildly confusing) return of an actor than Yayan Ruhian’s reincarnation as a machete-wielding hobo?
I’m not saying The Raid 2 isn’t messy – because it certainly is – but Evans hurls himself into this sprawling world with such earnest and reckless abandon that it’s all but impossible not to go along with it. And then there’s the fight scenes.
The Raid 2 boasts some of the most brilliant, bombastic and flat out phenomenal fight sequences to ever be committed to celluloid
It is with no exaggeration that I say The Raid 2 boasts some of the most brilliant, bombastic and flat out phenomenal fight sequences to ever be committed to celluloid. From a mud and blood-soaked pitched battle in a prison yard that sees the camera balletically dancing between countless simultaneous beat downs, through to a breathless one-on-one final conflict that’s all but guaranteed to knock the wind out of any person fortunate enough to witness it, this is the work of a master.
And boy is this work something. There has never been anything like The Raid 2 released by a Hollywood studio. There’s never been anything quite like it full stop. I can’t stress just how achingly brilliant every inch of the thing is, or just how much good will Evans and his honest, hard-working and endearingly short cast of misfit badasses have earned at this point. It’s a special kind of film, made by a bunch of people with an evident affection for genre cinema and the bonkers, hyper-stylised universe they’ve created.
There’s new joy to be reaped from every watch, as well as a hopeful sensation that maybe action cinema will be all right after all
Since that first, delirious screening at Sundance, I’ve managed to catch The Raid 2 a total of eight more times, a feat accomplished through various cinema chains, an online screener and, on one occasion, a desperate, tear-filled plea to borrow a friend’s DVD player at 3am in the morning. It just gets better. There’s new joy to be reaped from the insanity with every watch, as well as a creeping, hopeful sensation that maybe action cinema will be all right after all.
All images: Sony Pictures Classics