The ISCFC loves fighting films – a few days ago, we reviewed martial arts classic “Dragons Forever”, and a few months ago we did modern gem “Ninja”. Today, we’re taking on a couple of brand new films with fighting at their core – one of them the sequel to a modern classic, the other a good old-fashioned (relatively) low-budget actioner starring someone best known for fighting for real. How do they shape up?
I wasn’t as big a fan of “The Raid” as some people. I enjoyed it a lot, but felt there was quite a lot of stuff I remembered from computer games – find a bit of cover, crouch behind it, shoot endless swarms of bad guys, repeat. Perhaps it was the rotten subtitles on the version I saw, which kept dropping out or going “invisible” (white words on white background), but I didn’t feel like it was worth the hype. “The Raid 2”, on the other hand, is a 2 ½ hour beast, a sequel that goes further, with more of…everything, really.
Iko Uwais is Rama, the cop who broke so many people in pieces in the first film, and this time the raid is to go undercover with Jakarta’s biggest criminal gang, not to bring them down but to discover the crooked cops who are on their payroll. This, unfortunately, involves him going to prison for 2 years – but luckily for us, he does get to have an amazing mass brawl in the middle of a muddy quad. The big boss’s son is in prison, so Rama helps him out, gains his trust and works alongside him. Add to this other gangs trying to muscle in on their territory, the son plotting against the father and the crooked cops trying to kill everyone, and you’ve got a recipe for insanity.
The filmmakers clearly want you to bother about the plot of this one – Rama is supposed to be going to prison for a few months, but due to political interference, ends up in there for two years; although if you were expecting them to develop that side of the story in the gigantic running time of the film, you’d be disappointed. What the film does extraordinarily well is the fighting. The martial art of choice is pencak silat, one born in Indonesia and full of amazing close-fighting speed, and Iko Uwais clearly knows his stuff, as the fights are full of speed and incident and incredible precision.
Oh, and violence. Boy is this a bloody film – people get their faces smashed in and shot off, folks get impaled on a whole variety of things, Hammer Girl (her name in the film) uses her hammers to cause the sort of damage you’d expect…and so on. It’s really really violent. But beautiful, weirdly, as there are so many wonderfully filmed set pieces – like “Hero” but in the here and now.
I liked that this film wasn’t one long orgy of shooting and violence like the first one, but director Gareth Evans seems to have put an entire normal-length ultra-violent film in here, then added another hour of gangsters and crooked cops and betrayals. The thing is, I’m not sure a film like this really needs to be quite as long as it is (two and a half hours)- and it’s got an exceptionally downbeat ending, if you think about it for a minute.
So, “The Raid 2” goes over the top with violence, while giving us plenty to chew on, and it’s an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. It feels very very modern, too, but our other film of the day, “In The Blood” feels like it was taken straight from the 80s (with the exception of the gender of the protagonist).
Gina Carano is brilliant. She was a kickass MMA fighter, and drew some impressive PPV numbers for her fights until she ran into the (chemically enhanced) Christiane “Cyborg” Santos. After that, someone decided she could make a lot more money acting and not have to get her head kicked in for real, so she made a move. Her first big role was the Stephen Soderbergh-directed “Haywire”, which I loved, and while she’s still not the world’s best actress, she’s not bad and improving all the time. She plays Ava, who marries Derek (Cam Gigandet) after they meet in Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s rich, and his family don’t want him marrying someone like her, who’s probably just after his money, but they do anyway and go for a honeymoon to an unnamed Caribbean island.
We also get regular flashbacks to Carano’s childhood, where she watches her parents get killed (before killing the two assailants herself) and then is brought up by the sort of mysterious fella you get in films like this, who teaches her how to fight extremely dirty and generally look after herself. This is a handy way round the explanation for her being an amazing martial artist, so when Derek falls from a zipline and disappears on his way to hospital, she starts beating her way to the truth.
This is where the film stops making sense, too. I’d suggest stopping reading now (rating: thumbs up) if you don’t want to have it spoiled, as I’m not a good enough reviewer to tell you why otherwise.
Derek is important because he’s an exact bone marrow match for violent gangster Silvio (Amaury Nolasco), who has some rare cancer. The problem is, with the timescale of the film, there’s no possible way Silvio could have known that about Derek before everyone started acting weird. Thinking back on it, it starts to make less sense – unpicking the series of events that led Derek to being kidnapped by Silvio, I’m trying to remember if he had a blood test at any point, and I just don’t think he did. Talking of stuff that makes no sense, what about the bizarre way Derek’s family treat Ava when they come over from the mainland? They seem fairly satisfied that she murdered him and hid the body and just leave after a day or so, never to be seen again.
So, provided you can completely ignore the fact that this film’s plot is a complete house of cards and the merest whisper of wind is enough to send it tumbling, there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s got some great B-movie people in it (as well as Nolasco, we have Treat Williams and Danny Trejo) and Gina Carano is beautiful. No sense ignoring it, and despite being grotesquely large by Hollywood standards (in other words, built like a fit, strong, athletic woman rather than an undernourished waif) she dominates every scene she’s in and when she fights men, she looks infinitely better than when we’re expected to believe some 100-pound woman who looks like she’s never trained a day in her life can beat the crap out of some ripped 200-pound guy (there’s a reason boxing and MMA have weight classes, you guys).
A bit more acting development and Carano could be a huge star, but I think the writers (one of whom only did cheap horror sequels before this, the other wrote “Dumb and Dumber”) need to work on establishing why stuff happens. I annoyed my viewing companion by trying to puzzle out the ludicrousness of the story, and probably when I cheered at the nightclub fight, where women in tiny dresses throw each other around, so sorry about that; but I’m not sorry for still being unable to work out why A followed B in this movie. So watch and enjoy, but don’t whatever you do spend any time thinking about it.