Often, you’ll hear various movie critics talking a lot about how a majority of today’s action movies and blockbusters just downright suck. Transformers is shit, Battle: Los Angeles is stupid, Wrath of the Titans pretty much has 0 reason to even exist, etc. That isn’t to say thatevery action movie sucks today. Last year, I highly enjoyed both Fast Five and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but even those movies had a certain something lacking in comparison to the all-time action classics.
Namely, as cool and important as CGI is to the movie landscape, it’s also kind of ruined a majority of action movies because none of them know how to use it well. The main reason why I enjoyed Fast Five and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol as much as I did was because whatever CGI there was, it wasn’t distracting, and all of the action scenes had a sense of tangibility making each of them feel more gritty and intense. Tom Cruise really was hanging by the edge of the Burj Khalifa, to a certain extent, is what I mean. But even those films were lacking in a certain visceral punch that has been absent from a lot of films since the PG-13 rating dawned. The most brutal we can get with our action movies these days is simply just having more blood, but that just doesn’t cut it either.
I was pondering this while The Raid: Redemption was being screened in front of my very eyes, and as I was watching what seemed like hundreds of gang members being absolutely annihilated through various means of rifles, propane tanks, knives, machetes, and the Indonesian martial art of Silat, I realized that for the first time in a long while…I felt that punch. I wasn’t just gawking at cool set pieces or ogling at the action; I was sweating fucking machismo. I felt like wrestling a monster truck and taking a dump in a UFC fighter’s open, bleeding throat-hole. I felt like I was just taking a walk with John McClane and Rambo.
In short: The Raid: Redemption is badass in every possible level.
Our setup: A SWAT team decides to go on a top secret operation to raid an apartment complex that houses a ruthless crime lord, and hundreds of gang members. In video game fashion, as the team ascends up higher and higher levels , they’re confronted with tougher enemies and hordes upon hordes of baddies waiting to get their faces kicked in. Many critics have used the term “like a video game” as an insult for an action movie’s lackluster plot. The Raid is proof that it can also be a compliment.
Whenever mainstream audiences see critics’ reactions to movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the general consensus is usually something along the lines of “Well, what were you expecting brah? The story isn’t supposed to be good. It’s about alien robots kicking the living shit out of each other. What’s you’re problem, broski?” My counterargument for that is that the main reason why movies like Transformers and Battle: LA fail in the first place is that they have a plot to begin with. To put it in simpler terms: These movies don’t have a grasp on what they’re supposed to do. If you don’t have a good story worth telling to accompany your whizbang action, then why do you even have a story to begin with.
The Raid: Redemption is a great example of a minimalist plot. The set-up is simple, you know what’s at stake, a good sense of geography, who to root for, and who needs a bullet in the head. Unfortunately, this also means that the film has zero depth and complexity. Thankfully, it means that nothing can get in the way of the thrills, but that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t have been some depth in other areas, like character development. While lead actor Iko Uwais shows off his incredible talents as a martial artist, he doesn’t really give much range other than “subdued rage” and “general kick-assery”. The script doesn’t really help things much either, trying to tug at heartstrings by showing us his pregnant wife waiting at home, and including a generic subplot about his brother, who also turns out to be one of the gang members. These segments are thankfully brief enough to not be obtrusive enough to ruin the experience, but they’re definitely weak and keep the film from being a true action classic like, say, Die Hard.
But you don’t watch The Raid for a good script. While The Raid isn’t quite an action movie masterpiece, it is a masterpiece of an action “showcase”. Really, everything described above is all just one big excuse to have hundreds of guys brutally dispatched in intense hand-to-hand combat. Every time The Raid decides to put its engines on full-throttle and focus largely on the actopm, it’s insanely entertaining. From intense shoot-outs to fisticuffs, throat-slitting to machete-swinging, everything feels brutal and director Gareth Evans makes sure that you feel each and every bone-crunching punch of it.
Which leads me to another thing that differentiates The Raid from countless other action schlock fests: Choreography and cinematography. Remember choreography? That bygone art of actors actually knowing what they’re doing in a fight and performing stunts and moves that actually looked complex and cool? It almost seems like the last good sequence of choreographed action was iin Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Or all those Tony Jaa movies that I still haven’t seen). The Raid, meanwhile, has incredible stuntwork. So incredible, in fact, that I found it hard to believe that all those actors didn’t just flat-out die in the process of making this movie. It looks that good.
Gareth Evans also seems to get that the fight choreography is that good, and makes sure to shoot it all as smoothly and crisply as humanly possible. One of the main reasons why I hate so many of today’s action movies is that 90% of them are shot in bullshit shaky camera to hide the fact that the action just isn’t very special and bring a sense of faux-intensity. This is the exact opposite. Shot in just about every cool angle imaginable and edited to perfection, Evans makes sure that the audience has a perfect sense of who’s fighting who, what they’re doing, and how fucking awesome it all is.
There isn’t really much else to discuss about The Raid: Redemption. Action is really all it has, and as such, is all I really get to talk about. I still think that it was a missed opportunity to put in just a tiny bit more depth into the story and characters; but when I’m watching something this skillfully made, it’s hard to really complain.
Final Verdict: Consistently thrilling, entertaining, and brutal the whole way through; The Raid: Redemption, simply put, kicks ass. What it lacks in deep storytelling and memorable characters it more than makes up for in some of the most skilled direction of action you’ll see in a long time. Don’t let the fact that it’s subtitled scare you away: Just about anybody who loves action should not miss out on this one.
That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more reviews and articles on this very blog as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.
See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a monster truck to wrassle…