The Raid is a superbly constructed action film. An Indonesian cop/martial arts master/family man is tasked with raiding a castle-like fortress occupied by criminals waiting to be rewarded for gruesomely killing our hero. On the top floor is the big boss and the cop’s brother, but before he gets there like any good console game he has to use his wits and skills to outsmart groups of progressively deadlier assassins as he scales the building to protect his family.
There was a supreme mix of action and plot, just the right amount of character and background but not so much it drowned the story. It was enough that the protagonist had a brother and a wife he cared about and he was fighting for them. It’s most comparable to Die Hard, no one really gave a damn about Molly McLane past the fact that John wanted her alive. McTiernan spent a bit of time setting this up and then had Bruce Willis scale FOX HQ for two hours to get her back.
Many movies get it wrong. The recent ‘Conan the Barbarian’ film spent no real time on establishing the characters in a high fantasy cult world, there was endless action which no one understood or cared about. I saw Conan at the Empire film festival in London surrounded by a thousand other film nuts and Khal Drogo himself. No one applauded or said anything, we were scared if anyone piped up we’d get an Arakh to the face, or maybe a molten crown. The flip side are the appalling action films like ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ which only have a few minor action sequences and spend an hour establishing a relationship between Kenneth Branagh and Keira Knightly which we don’t care about.
Watching the Raid series is akin to watching Police Story or some of the old Jet Li films; the martial arts sequences are novel, the plots are brief and solely serve the purpose of furthering the action. The language is very blunt and the limited dialogue conveys emotion and motivation better than any character diatribes.
The Raid 2 takes a leaf from A Song of Ice and Fire and kills off the protagonist’s brother, the macguffin of the first movie, in the first three minutes to set up the story. Evans recognised that characters are secondary to the interests of progressing the plot and many are expendable to develop complex and visually fulfilling action sequences. The sequel takes the slaughter outside the confines of one building and spreads through nightclubs, prison yards and busy streets.
Most notable are the contained fights which take place in small confined spaces like a bathroom stall at the beginning of the film or in the backseat of an SUV with four henchmen. In 1971 Sean Connery made history in ‘Diamonds are Forever’ by having a fight in a tiny elevator. Most fight scenes are spread out and involve widespread destruction of property, but when Bond drew his elbow back to punch the other guy in the lift he broke the glass behind him, alerting the henchman to his plan. Connery later joked that his next fight would be in a telephone box. Our hero manages to fight two outlandish assassins wielding baseball bats and hammers in a small hallway and defeat both guards and inmates in a mud-drenched prison yard.
Please make more films like this, I don’t go to a movie called ‘The Raid’ to find out about the human condition or the meaning of it all.