The Raid (written and directed by Gareth Evans, fight choreo by Yayan Ruhian & Iko Uwais, 2012): You can tell whether or not you’ll like The Raid by looking at the full cast and crew on iMDB. See all those dudes with numbers by their name? Five members of the Machete Gang, eighteen Special Force dudes, 21 guards for the drug lab, and all the rest? Basically all of those dudes are gonna get destroyed, on-camera, in excruciating detail. You can see it in the trailer. Heads slammed into walls repeatedly. A handful of people get the punch-punch-stab-stab-stab-flip-slam-stab again treatment. Another goodun is the slam to close range gunshot. Or yo, every time the blades came out. You’re going to this movie to see a bunch of dudes get wrecked, and it more than delivers.
This is another movie that felt like a video game to me. The structure is very much like Final Fight or Double Dragon. You meet the guy with the wife and unborn kid in the beginning while he shows off his skills. There’s a briefing that lays out exactly how the movie is going to go. There are hordes of faceless goons, most of which are beaten down in huge group fight scenes. There are guys with specialties. There are actual factual midbosses. (They all use the same weapon, too, and are treated like horror movie monsters in a few great scenes.) There’s an end boss. The sets are pretty samey, and everything is fragile. One guy breaks a window at point blank range by rolling into it with maybe a foot’s worth of movement beforehand. It’s all very basic.
But The Raid: Redemption‘s not here to wow you with stunning set design. This is a murder movie, and one of the best examples of the type I’ve seen in ages. It’s a movie that benefits from being seen with a bunch of people, too. At my showing, the audience was mostly quiet for the first fifteen or twenty minutes. But as the tension ramped up and the action got more and more extreme, you could hear the audience getting into it. Sometimes it was a joke, like a hissed “Awkward” during an elevator scene. Sometimes it was a gasp of surprise. More often, though, it was a pleasurable exclamation. “Oh MAN!” “Aaaaaaaayo!”
I know a lot of people hate loud audiences, but this totally enhanced the movie. The Raid gives you a lot of spins on things you’ve seen before, but always manages to go one step past where you think it’ll end. It’s going to shock and make you want to cringe and look away. THat other people around you are reacting similarly is a boon. It’s a bonding, or maybe just communal, experience when someone loudly curses after a characters gets his brains blown out at close range.
I liked all of this one, basically. It did exactly what the trailer promised it would. We saw twenty cops fight their way into an apartment complex and then through a video game-style army of thugs. We saw people get stabbed up. We saw people get shot. We saw a few pretty great hand-to-hand fights. The main character, played by Iko Uwais, is just baby-faced enough that we believe he’s an earnest, classical hero, but not so baby-faced that we aren’t completely under his control when he sets about demolishing a hallway full of dudes armed with knives.
I want to talk more about the action scenes, but it’s tough. I don’t want to ruin any of the specific surprises that make the scenes so much fun to watch, and also, I saw this movie on Sunday and some of those specifics are fading. But the gore effects are horror movie quality, the fight choreography is consistently interesting, even if probably a dozen guys get thrown up against a wall during a fight. There’s a frantic and manic pace to the fight scenes that perfectly gets across the tension the characters are experiencing and makes it a very painful movie to watch at times. But at the same time, it gets away with being a little clever, too. There’s a gimmick with a machete and blood that worked really well for me, and there’s another bit where someone goes out of a window that I thought was monstrously effective and exciting.
The Raid: Redemption actually reminds me a lot of Crank 2. It’s nowhere near as profane as that flick, but both share a certain level of relentless action. The pauses for breath in The Raid are more like brief gasps of air. “Okay, my knees aren’t wobbling and I’m only seeing double. I’m ready for round two.” Crank 2 benefitted from me watching it with my friends, too. You have to be able to react, whether that’s flinching (you will) or gasping (you will) or laughing. Do you ever get that? Where something surprising and awful happens and you bark laugh in the throes of horrible tension? You’ll do that a lot. The Raid: Redemption is positively gleeful in its action, and that makes it an incredibly fun movie to watch. I’m waffling on whether or not I’ll see it again in theaters, but it’s a day one blu-ray purchase for sure.