***1/2 (out of four)
Full disclosure: I normally sit in the front row of the critics-only screening room, but for “The Raid 2,” I retreated to the very back. Reports indicated some viewers were nauseated at the film’s Sundance premiere—later identified as altitude sickness, but still—and I can be susceptible to motion sickness. Plus, I was one of the few who thought 2012’s Indonesian cult fave “The Raid: Redemption” was painfully redundant—not the mind-blowing action spectacle its fans saluted. So I felt no need to jam my face into one plotless, violent martial arts sequence after another.
Well, I sit corrected. Not since “Evil Dead II” has a film so triumphantly improved on its generic predecessor. In “The Raid 2,” Rama (Iko Uwais), a cop with astounding fighting skills, goes undercover in prison to cozy up to Uco (Arifin Putra) and sniff out the corrupt officers that Uco’s crime boss dad has in his pocket. (You may be reminded of “The Departed” and its Hong Kong inspiration, “Infernal Affairs.”) Rama’s boss doesn’t mention that this may take a very long time, so the officer has no choice but to follow his two years of incarceration by joining Uco’s crew and engaging in wild, deadly battles. Just part of the standard work week.
It’d be nice if writer/director Gareth Evans showed the impact of Rama’s absence on his family or demonstrated more of Rama’s frustrations about the little progress made toward his ultimate mission. Those small complaints aside, “The Raid 2” totally corrects the first movie’s monotonous pummeling of endless, mostly interchangeable battles. The sequel leaves room to break up the fights with a tough, economic plot about knowing when you’ve gone too far to turn back. When the combat comes, though, get ready. Rarely do action movies pack such style, creativity, confidence and pure badassery, with more bonkers choreographed sequences than you can count on one hand—ditto for the number of times your eyes will bug out and scream, “Holy [bleep]!”
It’s all in service of a steady, ultra-violent epic that isn’t for everyone. If you can stomach the imagery and seek variety in your hand-to-hand/foot-to-face/knife-to-throat combat, “The Raid 2” will knock your socks into next week.
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