Counterpoint Review: 'The Raid: Redemption' Adds A Little Bit Of Steroids To The Same Martial Arts Film You've Seen Twice Before

Reviews
by Gabe Toro
March 20, 2012 10:56 AM
10 Comments
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After much hype and love from the festival circuit, "The Raid: Redemption" begins rolling out into theaters this weekend. And while we saw the film at Sundance and called it a "triumph" not everyone at The Playlist office felt the same way. So here's a different take on the pulse-pounding action flick.

Gareth Evans, the director of Thai martial arts film “Merantau," returns with “The Raid: Redemption," a large-scale action film that ups the stakes from his decidedly ground-level earlier picture. He brings back “Merantau” leading man Iko Uwais as Rama, a SWAT team leader who leads his boys into a closed-off tenement to locate a rogue drug dealer who has made the surrounding area his playground. Because it is an action film, they get more than what they bargained for. Instant movie!

If only it were that simple. “Merantau” was a modest first effort, a film with kinetic fight choreography but only a sliver of a story, and a few stunts that sacrificed spontaneity for intensity. Sometimes this is a welcome diversion, like when an extra ladder in the way of Jackie Chan soon becomes a prop. And sometimes, in the case of “Merantau," it’s a sign that no one involved wanted to get too hurt, with safety measures seen everywhere. Given that watching Thai action films can sometimes feel like a doctor observing x-ray scans and searching for where bones break, this is probably a safer choice for all involved.

However, “The Raid: Redemption” shows off a bit of scale and expanded intention. Where in “Merantau," you worried for the health of everyone involved, “The Raid” features moments where you think, "Wow, that guy just murdered a stunt man." Evans has also strengthened his camerawork and armed himself with a better cast. As a result, the group dynamic and the sense of impending, suffocating doom recalls early John Carpenter, while the code of honor between cops and criminals and the highly choreographed gunplay harkens back to John Woo.

Of course, Evans, for all his flair, does not capture what made those two filmmakers so special. In the case of Carpenter, he’s missing that sense of humor. Carpenter knew when to press the needle down and when to relent, but Evans keeps things straight-faced and serious, constantly intense. Seeing the camera move through walls lost its novelty a decade ago, and utilizing it to capture fisticuffs occurring in a number of look-alike rooms proves to be visually repetitive.

As far as Woo, his films always featured highly stylized gunplay that skirted realism, but Evans won’t commit to that, instead focusing on actual Silat-based combat and messy, gore-filled gunfights. Seeing two equally-matched fighters go toe-to-toe has its rewards unless it’s in close-quarters for a certain period of time. At that point, unless there’s a serious difference between backgrounds, it just becomes a punching competition. Plausibility somehow becomes an issue rather than character or visual thrill, and after the fourth apartment building throwdown, there’s a sameness that kicks in for anyone who’s seen a few martial arts films.

Because of this emphasis on rather ugly brutality over visual flair, we’re forced to rely on star Uwais to carry the narrative. Just as “The Raid: Redemption” doesn’t feature the same delirious thrill as “Ong Bak” or “Chocolate," Uwais is no Tony Jaa. Smallish and with a nondescript face, Uwais, a good looking physical specimen, doesn’t “play” sexy, nor does he play confidence, excitement or dimensionality. He’s asked to bring a bit of nuance to a Woo-ish subplot involving a distant brother who long ago vacated the side of the angels, but the two actors, martial artists first, don’t seem to have ever been in the same room together.

“The Raid: Redemption” begins in a nasty hail of bullets, followed by a solid block of hand-to-hand violence. Unfortunately, given the dead-seriousness of the story, there’s no interesting escalation to the film’s floor-by-floor videogame structure, and by the fifty minute point, the film simply plateaus. Anyone who’s seen any martial arts films knows that this usually leads to a muted, emotional ending. Perhaps in the sequel, Evans can earn such an ending by writing an interesting character or two. [C-]

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10 Comments

  • Aulia | March 26, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    The Raid wasn't actually a long series of dead serious actions ;) There ARE some jokes inside, but I suppose only Indonesians can understand them...
    Not the biggest fan of the movie (and the action genre in general, so my opinion don't count :/) though

  • Rhee | March 22, 2012 5:58 AMReply

    just wanna tell that Merantau contains Pencak Silat not Thai Martial Arts, just like in The Raid.but in merantau Evans portrayed Silat in softer version. (Ong Bak is the true thai martial arts movie)

  • Gabe Toro | March 20, 2012 5:19 PMReply

    Apologies to anyone whom I offended by referring to this as a Thai movie and not Indonesia. An ignorant mistake, completely inexcusable.

  • Angga | March 21, 2012 1:15 AM

    Nah, It's okay :)

    Thanks for the review, Gareth and the teams need critics and praise altogether to make the sequels (two more) even better. Hopefully you'll love it next year :)

  • evilnik | March 20, 2012 2:41 PMReply

    i saw the name "Gabe Toro" and decided to skip reading the review. he gave Ghost Rider a B=. can you fcking imagine that? B+

  • Isaac | March 20, 2012 2:40 PMReply

    i'm gonna give this guy props for trying with the review, but its kinda like he wrote it after watching the trailer, and not actually the movie... i maen, you obviouisly speent a good 10 minutes or so wrighting it, unfortunately it seems like you spent the same amount of time actually watching the film.

    its kinda like your 12 and you just watched inception, then wrote a review of it for some film as lit class at school, like you didnt quite understand what you watched, but you had to wright a review for it so you just gave it your best.

  • faye | March 20, 2012 12:56 PMReply

    Mr Gabe. I Am Indonesian, and I love this kind of review, many thanks for u to show all weakness possible show within The Raid. I love how thing would starting over again for Merantau Film crew. They are need straight even more harsh critic for better sequel. Thank you.

  • Steve | March 20, 2012 12:16 PMReply

    Dude, before you wrote a review, make sure you're educated enough in movie world. You claimed that you felt like watching MA films that you've seen twice before, but yet you can't tell which one is Merantau and which ones are Thai movies. Because both Merantau & The Raid are Indonesian movies, not Thai.

    Secondly, I agree with Foxie below. I read some other reviews saying that the movie has dark humor in it. Well, maybe you watch too many Disney movies to understand such thing as dark humor :)

  • chendoelz | March 20, 2012 11:13 AMReply

    its not thai movie....its indonesian

  • foxie | March 20, 2012 11:11 AMReply

    The film has humor, too bad I thought it never pass the cultural barrier.

    I watched the movie last November with fellow Indonesian, and I can count at least 3-4 times the whole audiences laugh at some of the dialogue. Especially when the Machete Gang and Mad Dog is on screen. The humor kinda Tarantino-esque: deadpan serious, unintentionally funny while at the same time is scary.

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