There's a moment in The Raid 2 when a goon begs, "Please have mercy," and his assailant responds by raising his pickax. It's that kind of movie. And I'm half-joking when I say that if you gleefully identify with the assailant in that scene, this is the movie for you. Others may feel more like the goon.
That's because this stylish sequel to 2012's The Raid: Redemption clocks in at 150 minutes, many of them devoted to orgiastic violence. The picture reunites writer-director Gareth Evans and his impressive Indonesian Martial Arts star Iko Uwais for a new story that picks up just where they left off: having fought his way through and out of a fifteen-story apartment building full of gangsters, Jakarta cop Rama (Uwais) isn't offered a vacation. Instead, he's told, by the head of the department's anti-corruption task force, "If we don't act fast, you'll be gone within a week. Your family too."
Rama commits to a deep-cover infiltration of a crime family's organization, starting with a prison term that stretches to four years as he proves his bona fides to the family's prodigal son Uco (Arifin Putra). Once on the outside, life doesn't get any less dangerous for Rama as he lives a lie in pursuit of the truth about corrupt cops. Evans paints a dark and brutal picture of an ugly, lowlife world topped with clean, spacious offices, the austerity punctuated with terrible violence.
In a literally riotous melee, Rama has to get down in the mud with criminals, who may well becomes indistinguishable from the guards (elsewhere, a character remarks, "There's no such thing as a clean war in this world"). But this is not one of those movies about an undercover cop who becomes what he pretends to be. As counterpoint to this pitch-black worldview, Rama offers incorruptible vocation and heroic martyrdom (of which we're reminded by Rama's fleeting, secret calls to his long-unseen wife and child).
Even as he stretches his canvas to something approaching a crime epic, Evans is more comfortable playing with old tropes than finding something of substance to say with them. It's all about the visual language, and The Raid 2 has style to spare in its bone-crunching, close-up and at times close-quarter fights, and its high-octane urban demolition derbies, many of which reach a jaw-dropping graphic intensity.
In plot and character terms, Evans can't compete with more or less obvious influences like Oldboy and Infernal Affairs, but he's certainly no slouch in the sadism department, making his films in some ways exhilarating but also wearying, for better and worse. When it's in pure-action mode, The Raid 2 can be quite a thrill, but when it lingers on merciless impalings or introduces a character named, for obvious reasons, "Hammer Girl," you wouldn't be blamed for wondering, "That's entertainment?"