With his 2012 breakout, the fantastically brutal Indonesian martial-arts showcase, “The Raid: Redemption,” young Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans grabbed viewers with all the force of a throat jab from one of his frenzied combatants. The film was technically astonishing and yet brazenly simple: a Jakarta SWAT unit storms a drug kingpin’s 15-story tenement stronghold, where they fight (and fight, and fight), floor by floor, to survive. Period.
Evans and his hero, virtuous rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), are back for more in a sprawling sequel somewhat misleadingly titled “The Raid 2.” It’s an infiltration, really. And while this new story might not be as operatically epic as Evans intends, the action continues to be a bloody, bone-crunching wonder.
Following his gutsy narrow escape in the first movie, Rama is tapped by his department’s untouchables to go after the mob from a different angle: by going undercover and joining their ranks. Initially posing as a prisoner — and busting heads, naturally, in a welcome-wagon assault and a mud-slathered jailyard melee — Rama gains the trust of Uco (Arifin Putra), the incarcerated son of crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). When Rama is released a couple of years later, the road is paved for his rise from newbie foot soldier to strategically positioned key player.
There are bumps in that road, of course. The longstanding détente between Bangun’s camp and a rival Japanese crime family is threatened by Uco’s impertinence. Hustling young gangster-dandy Bejo (Alex Abbad) stokes the situation with some treacherous moves of his own.
Despite the film’s overlong running time, all of this can feel pretty murky at points, even if the broad strokes are utterly familiar. But these are just details, mere punctuation, in between all of that gloriously fetishized mayhem. In one sequence, Evans drops Uwais into a close-quarters chopsocky brawl like we’ve never seen — in the back of a speeding sedan, with the action partially shot from overhead. In one of the cutaways, such as they are, from all the undercover tension, we meet the mesmerizing “Hammer Girl” (Julie Estelle), a sundress-clad assassin who could pass for Uma Thurman’s “Kill Bill” stand-in. (The Bridesmaid?)
As part of the extended climax, Rama tangles with Bejo’s go-to assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman), a guy so deadly he even sports what look like mini-scythes — kerambit, to aficionados — as his weapon of choice. Their battle is staged in a gleaming white industrial kitchen, a pristine canvas for Evans’s artistic impulse to go Pollocking crimson all over the place. It’s a preposterously hyperviolent encounter that’s at once messy and adrenalizing — the “Raid 2” experience in microcosm.Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.