THE RAID 2 (2014, Gareth Evans)
A series of incredible setpieces buried in a bloated, poorly written gangster drama. What the first RAID film had going for it was a beautiful economy — one location, one day, no backstory. Just pure action, driven by a video game premise. THE RAID 2 dispenses with those limitations and tries its hand at epic crime, drawing from other Asian gangster movies like INFERNAL AFFAIRS, HARD BOILED, and CITY ON FIRE. Unfortunately, Evans can’t really write the same level of interesting characters or surprising twists, so the dialogue scenes and sweaty attempts at emotional storylines completely whiff. On the other hand, Evans does up the ante with his action scenes, and now there seems to be no limit on the jaw-dropping choreography he can do. His best invention is a pair of comic book-esque villains: one a deaf and half-blind woman who uses two hammers as her weapons of choice, the other her male counterpart who drags an aluminum baseball bat (and some balls for good measure). The violence is out of control — so graphic that it makes SABOTAGE look like THE LITTLE MERMAID (seriously: heads are exploded by shotguns at point blank range, throats ripped out, skulls smashed on concrete, etc.). To a point, the unbelievable gore lends this sequel a mean-spirited edge the first film didn’t have. It’s downbeat and merciless, taking some of the fun out of it. But then again, Evans is so skilled at putting together a fight scene (a hallway scene with the hammers-and-bat duo is only matched by one of the most insane car chases I’ve ever seen on film) that you can’t help but applaud his ambition.