‘The Raid 2’ battles its way to hit movie status

Photo provided by Sony Pictures Classics -- Iko Uwais stars as Rama, an undercover police officer in 'The Raid 2.' Show caption
Photo provided by Sony Pictures Classics -- Iko Uwais stars as Rama, an undercover police officer in 'The Raid 2.'

Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★ 1/2

A furiously active yet meticulously choreographed martial arts marathon, the nearly two-and-a-half-hour-long “The Raid 2” sets the bar high for any martial arts movie that will follow it.

Written and directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, “The Raid 2” follows his internationally acclaimed 2011 film, “The Raid: Redemption.” In his new project, Evans again revitalizes the martial arts genre via dense, multi-layered storytelling and refreshingly imaginative action.

“The Raid 2’s” eye-popping action scenes include the deadly Hammer Girl, a petite young woman who slays her prey with a pair of hammers. There’s also Baseball Bat Man, a cocky young assassin who kills with a bat and baseball.

Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man do their dirty work solo and as a deadly duo, but Evans more often hurls scores of fighters into camera range. Rama, the story’s young hero, continuously battles hordes of madly determined foes.

“The Raid 2” begins with one of Rama’s solo-versus-ensemble battles. An undercover cop, he fights his way out of a communal toilet, laying waste to dozens of enemies. But instead of freeing him to live a peaceful life with his wife and their infant son, Rama’s victory leads him to a lengthy, deadly new assignment.

Indonesian actor Iko Uwais brings much gravitas to Rama, a young father who’s forced to enter prison under the assumed identity of Yuda. Rama’s purpose there is to befriend the incarcerated son of Bangun, a powerful Jakarta crime boss.

The bravery and fighting ability Rama exhibits in one of the film’s great action scenes — a mud- and blood-splattering prison sequence featuring a cast of dozens — helps him win the loyalty of Uco (Arifin Putra), an arrogant young man of much ambition.

Beyond virtuoso martial-arts action in “The Raid 2,” Evans’ well-spun script, the characters he’s created and his engaging cast combine to raise this Jakarta-set film to the level of classic American gangster movies.

Playing Uco’s wise father, Bangun, Tio Pakusadewo evolves from smooth, patient, elder gangster stateman to enraged crime lord. Alex Abbad co-stars as the coolly evil, perennially glove- and sunglasses-wearing Bejo, the rival gangster with whom Uco aligns himself.

Like the gangster character studies in “The Sopranos” TV series and “The Godfather” movies, Evans also creates a criminal who, despite the fact that his work includes killing people, emerges from the blood and action as a multi-dimensional human being. The frazzle-haired Yayan Ruhian portrays Prakoso, a soulful killer who you’d never tag as one of Jakarta’s most dangerous men.

With so many assassins in one story, especially in the colorful guises of Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yuisman) and Prakoso, “The Raid 2” is more than loaded for action. Nonetheless, Evans accelerates the action through car chases that stand ably alongside his martial arts scenes. The director recruited Hong Kong car-stunt expert Bruce Law for the auto-chase sequences, which were shot at six locations, including Jakarta’s Little Tokyo and Blok M bus terminal.

The subtitled “The Raid 2” is in Indonesian, Japanese, Arabic and, briefly, English, but its action and story translate to any language. It fights its way to the top of this year’s action movies.