Go bigger or go home. Since the dawn of the action-sequel era, that’s been the most golden of golden rules. Audiences can’t be expected to dig into their pockets to see more of the same. We want splashier F/X, crazier car chases, and crunchier bone crunching. No, we demand it. And for the most part, the studios (both here and abroad) have been only too happy to supersize their sequels.
Back in the ’80s — the heyday of give-the-people-what-they-want action encores — George Miller’s postapocalyptic demolition derby The Road Warrior took the brooding engine that drove Mad Max and fuel-injected it with nihilistic gonzo mayhem. James Cameron took Ridley Scott’s Alien, a claustrophobic old-dark-house chiller in space, and opened it up into a macho rock-‘em-sock-‘em spectacle. And soon enough Cameron would even outdo himself with his sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Who would’ve guessed when Ah-nuld prophetically barked the first film’s ”I’ll be back” catchphrase that he’d return with a budget more than 10 times the size of the original and all the eye-candy visual pyrotechnics it could buy? This wasn’t just a passing fad. It was a new way of doing business — one that’s still very much alive today. Recently, 300: Rise of an Empire goosed the Grecian formula of the original, adding gallons more gore and upcharging for 3-D specs, while the Fast & Furious franchise pushes the envelope so far with each new chapter that Fast 7 will basically have to be a two-hour fireball.
All of which brings us to the latest go-for-broke action sequel, The Raid 2, an Indonesian cavalcade of carnage directed by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans. The movie’s whole raison d’être is to give its action-junkie fan base more (more martial-arts fight scenes, more bloodbath insanity) and push that excess to its giddiest, goriest extreme. When Evans’ first chapter, The Raid: Redemption, hit theaters in 2012, it already set the thrill-kill bar pretty high. It was an exquisitely rigged mousetrap of ultraviolence, pitting an elite team of cops against a ruthless underworld kingpin whose lair lay atop a 15-story tenement. Floor by floor, they had to methodically slash and hack their way to their target like they were sadistic avatars in the world’s most demented videogame. How do you top something like that?
Evans’ answer? Lip-smacking brutality and balletic style. Rama (Iko Uwais), the hero of the first film, returns, and now he’s looking for payback. He’s tapped to go undercover to infiltrate the same Mob he fought in the first movie and move up the organizational ladder. The mole-in-the-underworld setup will be familiar to fans of 2002’s Hong Kong epic Infernal Affairs and its 2006 American remake, The Departed. But this long-con game (and it is long; The Raid 2 is easily a half hour longer than it needs to be) is merely window dressing for the movie’s real MO — namely, its dozen or so fight sequences, which are so bananas they make their Jackie Chan/Bruce Lee predecessors look as flat-footed and innocuous as a Three Stooges short. There are brawls with aluminum baseball bats that bounce off skulls with the tinny sound of a steel-drum solo, a female assassin (Julie Estelle) armed with a pair of flesh-flaying claw hammers, and demented fists-of-fury beatdowns in the tightest of spaces, including a squalid prison toilet stall and the backseat of a speeding car.
This particular brand of look-through-your-fingers-if-you-dare savagery is not for everyone. You’ll either dial right into the film’s feverish frequency or head for the concession stand. But if it’s more that you’re after, then The Raid 2 will make you feel like Christmas came nine months early. Some action sequels don’t know when to say when. But here’s one where too much is just the right amount. B+