Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Evans’ original Indonesian martial-arts flick, “The Raid: Redemption” (2011), had preposterous fight sequences and body counts but what charmed you — if that’s the right word — was a comic sensibility that allowed guys, good or bad, to bounce back from seemingly terminal blows to continue the fight.
It was a visceral, grungy version of an old Warner Bros. cartoon. Plus it had a certain action-movie purity of real stunts in real time and no CGI crap.
One’s enjoyment of the sequel though is dampened by its unabashed sadism and grotesque physical damage. Rather than exhilarate the audience, Evans wearies all but the most dedicated action fans with almost non-stop fights.
Put it this way: The head-to-a-red-hot-griddle is almost a staple in kitchen fights. Do you really need the camera to linger on the astonishing recreation by effects specialists of what happens to human flesh if such a thing really happens?
Evans has raised the bar as far as his stunts and fight ballets are concerned. Choreographed again by lead actor Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (the latter appears though as a different character from last time), the fights are right up there with any true action sequences — as opposed to digital fracases — from Hollywood, Hong Kong or points in between.
But here’s proof that you can go to your strengths too often even when they’re as spectacular as these stunts. They are beyond ludicrous. Nothing epitomizes this more than the simple fact that anyone bringing a gun to these hand-to-hand fights would triumph. Worse, they become repetitive and extended to the point of tedium.
The original took place in claustrophobic surroundings, a high-rise tenement through which the police heroes must fight their way against masses of thugs. The new film, wherein Rama (Uwais) must go undercover with a new identity, occurs in the luxurious hangouts of Indonesia’s criminal elite and clearly takes advantage of a much larger budget.
Replacing fists and feet pounding remorselessly on flesh and bone, the new film expands the hardware available to combatants beyond knives to a broom handle, a baseball and bat, a pickaxe, half-crescent claw daggers and a pair of hammers wielded by a deadly female assassin (Julie Estelle, pictured left).
Evans appears to have studied Sergio Leone in his combat stylistics with slow motion and attention to minute, telling details that do enliven many of these sequences.
These make fine use of vastly different terrain from a muddy prison courtyard after a downpour to inside moving vehicles, a subway car, noodle bar, warehouses, porn factory, tight corridors and – in the pièce de résistance – a gleaming nightclub kitchen.
The story takes a while to get its undercover hero situated into the gang run by old-school crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), whose syndicate co-exists peacefully with that of his Japanese counterpart, Goto (Kenichi Endo). This is accomplished by getting him close to the boss’ obnoxious son, Ucok (Arifin Putra).
You have to buy into the son being so anxious to grab his daddy’s power that he’ll go behind his back to conspire with Bejo (Alex Abbad), a half-Arab gangster looking to grow his territory.
Double-crosses and plot twists gather force as the story hurtles from fight scenes and executive suite confrontations to its climax, each new jolt a ramp-up in incredibility and coincidence. The characters are surprisingly vivid for these sort of things, but this only makes you wish for less blood and more insight into this exotic underworld.
Nimble widescreen camerawork by Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono does justice to all this athletic activity. Meanwhile Evans and Andi Novianto’s skillful editing pulls everything together.
Joseph Trapanese, Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal contribute a dynamic score that ranges from ambient electronic music to pounding drums.
Opens: March 28, 2014 (Sony Pictures Classics)
Production companies: Stage 6, XYZ Films, Merentau Films
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Kenichi Endo, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kazuki Kitamara, Donny Alamsyah, Cok Simbara, Very Tri Yulisman
Director-screenwriter: Gareth Evans
Producers: Ario Sagantoro, Nate Bolotin, Aram Tertzakian
Executive producers: Rangga Maya Barack-Evans, Irwan D. Mussry, Nick Spicer, Todd Brown
Directors of photography: Matt Flannery, Dimas Imam Subhono
Production designer: Tomy Dwi Setyanto
Costume designer: Rinaldi Fikri Aldie Harra
Music: Joseph Trapanese, Aria Prayogi, Fajar Yuskemal
Fight choreographers: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian
Editors: Gareth Evans, Andi Novianto
R rating, 148 minutes