It’s rare for a foreign language film to receive as much eager anticipation as Indonesian martial arts thriller The Raid 2. Its predecessor made waves by focussing on the universal language of action and offered a refreshing departure from predictable Hollywood clichés. The Raid’s finale was no foregone conclusion and neither is its sequel.

© 2014 - Sony Pictures Classics

© 2014 – Sony Pictures Classics

The Raid’s rookie cop, Rama (Iko Uwais), pounds his way out of a toilet cubicle, assailed by a persistent stream of men. As the bruised bodies pile up behind him, Rama escapes. Later he prepares himself, slowly unscrewing a broom handle. Rain pelts down in crystal, slow motion. Spinning, ducking and snapping bones, Rama fights his way through a riot across a mud bathed prison courtyard. These scenes of exquisitely choreographed chaos are the first in a series of fast, brutal and bloodthirsty action set pieces, captured with ingenuity by British writer-director Gareth Evans.

The single, confined setting of the original Raid movie – the dark corridors of an enemy tower-block during a real time drugs bust – gave the action a relentless, escalating intensity. While the single setting of the original has been stripped away, Evans keeps rigidly to a formula of gradually increasing violence. Each fight is more intense than the last. When the final showdown arrives it’s a graphic, heart-thumping masterclass in martial arts.

“A graphic, heart-thumping masterclass in martial arts”

Relieved of the confines of a single setting, writer-director Gareth Evans harnesses the genre’s endless possibilities with mixed success. Providing more breathing space between action scenes on a far gorier scale than the original, Evans fills the gaps with plot. Rama, fresh from his tower-block victory, goes undercover to bring corrupt officials to justice and becomes tied up in a father-son power struggle. Yayan Ruhian – one of The Raid’s standout martial arts performers – re-appears as assassin and advisor Prakoso when various factions quibble over territory.

Evans continues his thematic exploration of family and corruption but here the underlying framework is flimsier and reminiscent of more typical action flicks. Evans new inventions – fanciful characters with trademark weapons, namely a girl with two hammers and a guy with a baseball bat – occasionally spill over into the Tarantino-esque. Yet the shaky plot reveals itself only on reflection. The conviction and menace Evans ploughs into his sequel ensures this is hardly a concern in the moment and, by comparison to its mainstream counterparts, The Raid 2 remains surprisingly unconventional.

© 2014 - Sony Pictures Classics

© 2014 – Sony Pictures Classics

Out in the open, the opportunity for action scenarios is unlimited and Evans even tries his hand at a martial arts fuelled car chase. Positioning his camera in impossible places – including a view down into the cabin from the roof of the car – Evans gives us a new perspective on this often clichéd set-piece. Glossy paint jobs and flying sparks have no place here. Instead a car crashes through a building with all the gritty realism of a Youtube clip. Evans shows a restraint and a commitment to authenticity that successfully treads the fine line between the shocking and the plausible.

In the same vein as its predecessor, The Raid 2 showcases martial arts with inspired camera work. It’s violent and potent but veers towards the showy with a few mis-steps – including an unnecessarily flamboyant operatic score that accompanies a crucial killing. Even so, Evans gives his martial arts sequences time and is largely willing to let the action do the talking. Here, well matched opponents and skilful, physically exhausting, hand-to-hand combat creates its own spectacle.

VERDICT:   ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭     4.5/5

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Images © 2014 – Sony Pictures Classics