Blood and guts but no soul

Blood and guts but no soul

‘The Raid 2’ tries too hard at besting its predecessor

By Michael Nordine 03/27/2014

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The most telling line in “The Raid 2” is also the first: “It’s a question of ambition, really.” Where “The Raid: Redemption” had too little and was ultimately satisfied with being a one-trick pony whose trick wasn’t actually that impressive, its sequel has oodles but is unable to do much of note with it. That Gareth Evans’ film spawned a sequel in the first place comes as little surprise — it garnered critical acclaim and impressive box office returns — but the fact that he’s chosen to mold a crime epic out of insufficient parts does.

The film picks up where the first left off, with a rough-and-tumble cop in Jakarta emerging from a hellacious battle only to be thrown in prison on an undercover assignment for a full two years. Once out, he joins a crime syndicate on the verge of all-out war with a rival faction. Scene after scene gives the impression of a capable action auteur doing his damnedest to present the balletic violence in a manner that transcends the genre in which he’s working, but all the eye-gouging, rocks to the skull and exit wounds evaporate into the ether once they've whizzed by for the simple reason that there’s no real weight behind them.

You don’t see or feel the significance as the characters plot out their next move, but at nearly every turn you can feel Evans self-consciously trying to turn his set-pieces into something more than the well-shot diversions they are. He checks many of the requisite boxes — Shakespearean power struggle between a father and his son, unflagging protagonist trying to protect his family from afar, extended fight sequences — but never makes us believe in their import as much as he does.
Every character has a stern look on his face for every second of every scene, which is meant to draw us into the film’s dangerous world but mostly makes it hard to take seriously. Nearly all of these men, from the head honchos to the henchmen, act as only characters in a super-cool movie would — a trend brought to the extreme by the gangster whose affectations include a cane, leather gloves, indoor sunglasses and a rotary phone.

In this ecosystem, as in most others, those at the top of the food chain do their utmost to remain there. The more ascendant their position, the colder and more calculating their methods. The real danger is in thinking you’re higher up than you are and acting out of turn. The fight sequences this clash leads to are all beautifully choreographed, just as they have been in nearly every movie of this kind since “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Evans would clearly like nothing more than for “The Raid 2” to join that esteemed company, but it’s an ersatz epic at best.

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