The only way out of a maze is through it. The fictional Jakarta of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 is a grimy, dark, industrialized maze filled with its own minotaurs and dead ends. To call it hyper-violent is an understatement. There’s a fight scene with a hammer that bests the scene in Oldboy (the original). The fight choreography is for a dirty street fight. Bones crunch and blood gushes. It’s fast and brutal. It is also exhilarating to watch. The man responsible for the lightning fast beatdowns is Iko Uwais, who stars and is also one of the fight choreographers. He plays Rama, the good cop who must navigate his way out of an underworld full of mobsters and corrupt cops.
On a side note, it is not necessary to watch the films in order. Although The Raid 2 begins right after The Raid: Redemption, references to the first are made but do not hinder understanding of the sequel. It’s like Kill Bill.
After having watched the sequel before the first, the first felt like an action dessert.
The Raid: Redemption is about a SWAT team raid on a building controlled by a drug dealer. It is mainly a set up for the extended action sequences, which are cool, but don’t forward the story that much. The fight scenes are shot and edited with clarity, and an over-the-shoulder perspective of the good guys. What it hints at, and what is developed more in the sequel, is the sense of being trapped in a thick web of corruption.
The Raid 2 begins shortly after the events of the first. Rama must now hide out in prison until the mob forgets about him. However, his release date is being delayed. Good news, he can start building a case on the mob boss, since his son is in the same prison as Rama. Bad news, his superiors want to know which cops are in the mob boss’ organization. Rama could continue to hunt down and arrest the criminals, which seems to be a losing battle, or he could just join the mob. They are like a hydra. Instead, he tries to just get out. It’s not easy in a world of constant shifting alliances and selfish criminals. Although, the tone is tough and dark, The Raid 2 has some flair with the baddies. There’s a leather-gloved mob lieutenant, who is vaguely reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove, and the lethal duo of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.
A real strength of both movies is that the feeling of climbing out of quicksand is expressed in the action scenes. The extended action sequences in The Raid 2 contain their own dramatic story arcs and have larger consequences than say, Henchmen #4 gone. Characters, alliances, and tone are firmly established from the first fight, which is Rama fighting his way out of a grimy bathroom stall. Seriously.
Recommend: Yes, mostly The Raid 2. Watch The Raid: Redemption if you still need an action fix. You won’t regret it.