Review Roundup - Hammer Time

THE RAID 2 (2014)

In an effort to follow up both the original film and use an earlier script that was previously considered too expensive, The Raid 2 (sometimes subtitled with it's original name Berandal or "Thug") is a strange thing to see come together. In what was originally the story of a prisoner befriending a crime boss's son and joining a mob war, this is now an undercover cop film - the nameless thug being replaced with the hero Rama from the first outing. If this all sounds a bit unwieldy, it's because it is. But whether this all collapses under it's own weight or if they manage to throw in enough eye watering set pieces and imaginative moments for it to work is something for consideration. The result is both an improvement and a step down from it's predecessor.

The lean approach on the first movie was a big part of what made it work, and here the film makers have bigger ambitions. The main problem is that by combing two ideas of an original story and a sequel which was never planned, the running time is incredibly long. They could afford to lose 30 or maybe 40 minutes here and still have a pretty spectacular film. There large number of characters to introduce; the protagonist, the crime boss, his son, and their rivals on both a Japanese and Indonesian organizations amongst others. A lot of time is given to the central dynamic in which the hot headed son wants to gain more power, something he considers his father is holding back from him. It's a fair story line for this kind of genre, but adding to this the plot strands about undercover work, corrupt cops and the other gangsters - things become a bit strained over nearly two and a half hours.

But I sound overly critical here and it isn't as bad as it could have been. This is a martial arts film after all, and the action is what makes it work. The art direction may be nice to look at during these more talkative scenes, but people are here to see the spectacle of real stunt work. Thankfully the bulk of the story is book ended by imaginative and often incredible fight sequences that are both lengthy and impressive. Not content with just the hand to hand fighting, director Gareth Evans throws in a car chase and a fight, simultaneously. The comic book elements were restricted to an absurdly awful tower block in the first film, but again things go further this time around with homeless hit men, Yakuza bosses and a prison so bad that ten or twenty man brawls can take place. Characters credited only as "Hammer Girl" and "Baseball Bat Man" are introduced in the third act (no points for guessing what they get up to) and things are ramped up to excessively violent levels as the mob conflict comes to a head. The original drab grey setting has been thrown out in favour of bright colours and visually intricate city scenes that use both incredible camera work and talented performers. The characters are as clich├ęd as you'd expect but it works. During the mid section it feels like it might come apart at the seams, but by gathering steam at the right time every comes together for a satisfying KO.