The Raid 2 uses its budget upgrade to expand on the human fragility which underscored its predecessor. Claustrophobic hallways are traded for spacious scenery and lavish interiors, often shot in bird’s eye view, actors taking up only a tiny portion of the screen. Fights become bigger, juggling multiple combatants across multiple locations (including a car chase with three distinct layers). Even the threat is much more overwhelming: this time out, rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover into the Jakarta mob, entrenched with local police and at an uneasy truce with their Japanese counterparts. A Big Business/Big Government venture with its own internal, arcane logic around which it revolves. It’s a system too big for one man to dismantle. There’s even a suggestion all that’s really happening is a managerial shakeup.
In that sense, The Raid 2 plays out as much a companion to Johnnie To’s Drug War as a followup act to The Raid–straightlaced agent of the law (and piety, Rama holding fast to his Islamic faith when offered booze) up against a criminal enterprise consisting of large personalities. Director Gareth Evans makes Rama an incidental player in the gangster drama, protecting (possibly enabling) a duplicitous heir until ambition turns to bloodshed. Otherwise, his role becomes dispatching foot soldiers and three elite assassins (each with themed weapons). Despite the often massive scale of fight scenes (i.e. the prison riot), not only is everything clearly defined, Evans even makes them intimate, personal. Beyond the requisite bloodletting and bone-breaking, character beats are woven into action (“Baseball Bat Man” signing to his sister “Hammer Girl” before a fight; Rama slowing his roll against the main Assassin for their second bout, to better study an enemy which got the KO last time). The larger machinations are left to their own devices, probably to be reset; Rama’s real concern lies with his familial obligations (a wife and baby son at home, a brother to be avenged). It’s through this tension between indifferent forces and personal desire a portrait emerges: uncomplicated as he is, there’s a ferocity in Rama’s Silat martial arts style with elbows, knees, repurposed weapons turned back on his enemies, anything which will do more damage to others than they can do to him. The Raid 2, then, plays like Gareth Evans’ thesis on corruption and bureaucracy: one shouldn’t hope to annihilate it, only to outlive it.