By Jake Howell

The Torontonian Reviews THE RAID 2

The relative failure of the Star Wars prequels is due to the fact that they more or less strayed from what made the original trilogy really cool. A New Hope is that classic Bildungsroman of a young farmboy becoming an unbelievable hero, while The Phantom Menace and the ensuing sequels are really really concerned with trade federations, the Senate, and other galactic politics that make my eyes glaze over pretty much instantly.

This is not to say that the sequel to 2012’s The Raid (originally subtitled Berandal) is comparably bad to any of the Star Wars prequels. It’s not. Rather, it is clear that Gareth Huw Evans, the writer and director of The Raid 2, has committed Taboo: Naboo, and the follow-up to one of the greatest action films in recent memory seriously suffers as a result.

The problem: there’s a lot of plot behind The Raid 2, but not only is it definitively difficult to follow, it is more importantly uninspired and far too drawn out. Where The Raid was relentless, The Raid 2well, relents, over two-and-a-half hours, to tell a convoluted tale of underworld crime families and corruption. The dialogue here is workhorse at best, as the lines service the most basic of character expositions and motivations. Plenty of talky action films are at least funny or filled with amusing bravado; in the likely event you don’t speak Indonesian, the subtitles are a particularly uninteresting read, and I can recall perhaps only a single juicy quote.

8This expansive story gets lost, both in translation and in location, as the film quickly sprawls all over Jakarta, jumping from set piece to set piece. But this paint-the-town-red approach is yet another unfortunate difference from the single-location devastation of the original: certainly, Evans takes advantage of new environments by incorporating their various elements into the fighting formula, and it’s definitely neat to see the fighters interact with the unpredictability of a public space. That said, I can’t help but think the contained and claustrophobic action of The Raid’s apartment block was a large aspect of its success. Of these set pieces a muddy jailhouse brawl and a highway car chase are two of the film’s major winners, but others are less inventive or visually striking (though the feats of camera trickery in the highway sequence are rather astounding).

18 copyIn terms of the indoors fighting, The Raid 2’s violent vignettes range from repetitive to very exciting. On the tiresome side is the now chock-a-block close-quarters ass-kickery, where Rama (Iko Uwais) takes on a dozen thugs singlehandedly. I don’t want to downplay the impressive choreography of Evans and Uwais when it comes to these sequences, as they are still assuredly entertaining. But 150 minutes sees a lot of similar encounters.

On the other hand, the film gets it extraordinarily right with Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, two assassins that stand out a la Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Hammer Girl, with her namesake akimbo weapons, is dressed to kill and delivers absolute destruction in a memorable subway scene. Meanwhile, Baseball Bat Man’s blunt instrument of choice is able to send a homer directly into his target’s skull, dragging his club behind him as he struts. When these killers finally catch up to Rama, the resulting clash is cataclysmic and very thrilling, and it’s a shame there isn’t more of these characters wreaking havoc.

When the longwinded mayhem finally comes to its (somehow) rushed conclusion, the initial issue remains ever-present: Evans spread his ambitious sequel much too thin, and there’s little narrative payoff to the vastness of his story. The waveform of The Raid 2 has nadirs of tedium that simply weren’t present in the original, and even then, some of the apexes feel overwhelmingly long. A one-on-one fight scene late in the film feels endless and becomes exhausting to watch, and it’s disappointing to admit that the same is generally true for the feature itself. If there is a third Raid film to come (and I imagine there probably will be), the scope will have to be reined in considerably for me to get excited for a sit this excessive again; any larger and this franchise will soon lose all semblance to its origin.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon