I finally got a chance to see Raid 2 last night. I had had a couple of false starts due to the presence of the kids, but I managed to clear the time. I loved Raid: Redemption, and had heard a lot of “the second one’s different and I didn’t like it as much” talk, which was useful as an expectation diluent. After the first half of the movie, I had basically the same opinion as the people I’d read – it might be a better movie-movie than the first one, but I liked the fist a lot better. The first half had a lot of good character work, but precious little fighting, kind of the speed of Drug War, a movie I liked OK but was ultimately disappointed by (though I don’t really know enough about the current status of the drug trade in Asia to understand it as a political document of which it was probably a lot better example).
But the second half was a different matter. This movie was the opposite of Kill Bill, a movie whose simple throughline/fast paced first half allows for an interesting psotictal downshifting that leads to a build-up of emotional content. There is a certain type of structure in action films that works this way, where all of the meeting with the goddess or atonement with the father stuff gets pushed to the end (kind of) making the real climax spiritual/emotional/intellectual. The “fight your way to the room where you will face the real test… some old (white) guy who realizes the thing you don’t that will either turn you into what you are fighting against, or prompt enlightenment. These moments vary from interestingly weird (Snowpiercer) to satisfying (Kill Bill) to Hunh? (Matrix 2). But I think, if you are going to do this, superhero comics work best because you can fight and have the cosmic discussion at the same time, especially in Starlin (see: Warlock vs. Magus).
What Raid 2 does is, in my mind, better – it takes the time to establish all the stakes so that the mostly-fighting last half is the emotional catharsis. The few (or even just one) words in the pause between beatdown scenes carries so much weight in this momentum-enhanced setting. So after its second half, I like it better than the first one because the first half paid off so completely in allowing the second to clear any exposition out of its way.
Another reason it works so well is that while the first Raid rips off walled city of Kowloon movies, the second rips off countless things, and combines them in a way that makes them sing. So, minimal spoilers ahead (it’s hard to spoil this kind of movie – you know where it is going – but you may want to be surprised at some of the specifics I’ll mention).
First, everyone cites the Departed (and Infernal Affairs, though I actually think the movie rips more from the Departed than the original) as a source for this, which is true, but I was surprised how much Godfather there was in it. Notwithstanding the betrayal within the family, here is an old crime boss trying to make peace after the eruption of bloodshed, a son not happy with it, and a spree of montage revenge set loose once the old man is dead. This is re-contextualized, but pretty hard to get past. The capitalism-destroys-honor theme is a major one in both films. Both movies have a scene with a guy slapping another guy repeatedly and absurdly.
The movie did a good job subsuming its video game influences. There are a lot of mini-boss to the final boss progressions in film nowadays, but this one earns it both through earlier character work and letting the minibosses have their own fights from which they emerge victorious against large groups of people who are not the hero. This represents a bad case of the inverse ninja effect - the hero fights a large group and can win, but so do the villains. So when these characters meet one on one, (or two on one) it heightens the stakes. The aluminum bat mini-boss is a total video game character, a flurry of action when fighting, bat butterflying everywhere, but slumped and dragging the bat if he has to move 10 feet to the next enemy. He is a live action character with a walk cycle. Oh, and and he carries his weapon like Pyramidhead.
There is the sensory deprived/locked in/shut off (deaf, essentially mute, emotionless affect, wearing sunglasses) female assassin in a pseudo schoolgirl outfit which comes from, like, everywhere, but which made me think most strongly of Frank Miller (and other Marvel Frank Miller-derived) comics (though Japanese movies have a lot of this – one, called Chocolate, is about an autistic girl who goes on a revenge spree that was sold here as “she is a special needs girl” – flurry of action - “who has a special need” - flurry of action - “ to kick some ass”). She wields two hammers (take that, Oldboy).
There was a Kubrick-like framing in a lot of the scenes (medium longs in interesting spaces with the characters center frame, lots of center framing in general, etc). There were longer takes with action happening only in a small part of the frame, often off center, which reminded me of some 70’s horror (e.g. Texas Chainsaw – is there a scarier scene than the murder with the camera pullling way back so you can barely see what is going on?). The visual style was varied, and pretty interesting (the fight in the mud was terrific).
This movie rips off so much, and is so good. If the beginning seems slow, stick with it… it’s worth it.