The Films of Gareth Evans
The Raid (March 22/12)
The Raid follows a team of cops, including Iko Uwais' Rama, as they storm a rundown building occupied by dozens of killers and thugs, with the film, for the most part, detailing the bloodshed that naturally ensues as the cops make their way deeper and deeper into the perilous tenement. It's a strong, almost foolproof premise that's squandered virtually from the word go by filmmaker Gareth Evans, as the writer/director's inability to offer up a single compelling or interesting character immediately prevents the viewer from embracing the simple narrative. (This is despite the fact that the film's central antagonist is promisingly described as a "maniac of feet and fists.") Far more problematic, however, is the movie's complete lack of engrossing action sequences, as Evans has infused such moments with a hopelessly incoherent sensibility - eg shaky camerawork, rapid-fire editing, etc - that proves disastrous. And although it's difficult not to get a kick out of the creativity that's been hard-wired into certain interludes, one can't help but feel that many of the movie's high-octane moments could (and should) have been so much better (ie imagine what a competent filmmaker, a John McTiernan or a Peter Hyams, say, could have accomplished with this material). It's consequently not terribly surprising to note that The Raid grows more and more interminable as time progresses, which ultimately does ensure that the hero's climactic battle with the aforementioned antagonist falls disappointingly flat. The end result is a woefully underwhelming piece of work that stands as further proof that the action genre is dead (or, at the very least, dying), which is certainly a shame given the strength of the initial setup and of Uwais and Yayan Ruhian's innovative fight choreography.
The Raid 2
A very slight improvement on its disappointing predecessor, The Raid 2 picks up shortly after the events of the original film and follows supercop Rama (Iko Uwais) as he attempts to infiltrate a notorious crime family. Filmmaker Gareth Evans employs an almost excessively deliberate pace designed, one would assume, to draw the viewer into the movie's epic atmosphere, with the slow build, though effective at building this larger-than-life world, generally preventing one from embracing the central character's ongoing exploits and endeavors. The hands-off vibe is compounded by a first half that's rife with competent yet far-from-thrilling action sequences, as Evans predictably infuses such moments with a frenetic, needlessly jittery feel that results in an absence of excitement and thrills - with this especially true of a coherent yet underwhelming prison-yard brawl (ie it's an interlude that fares as poorly as most of the action in 2011's The Raid). It doesn't help, certainly, that Evans' screenplay offers scene after scene of the dull dealings between crime families, and there's little doubt, too, that the proliferation of generic fights only perpetuates the film's rough-cut feel. (At exactly 150 minutes, The Raid 2 is clearly a full hour longer than necessary.) The late-in-the-game introduction of Julie Estelle's hammer-wielding Alicia provides the proceedings with a jolt of much-needed energy, and Evans, past that point, offers up a surprisingly engrossing climactic stretch that contains a handful of impressively captivating sequences (including an exciting car chase and a mesmerizing final fight) - which does, in the end, confirm The Raid 2's place as a passable sequel that could (and should) have been so much better.