CONTAINS OOOF SOME OUCH SPOILERS AAARGH
Violent movies? You want really violent movies? Put down those DVDs of The Expendables 2 and A Good Day To Die Hard, they're My Little Pony and The Care Bears next to The Raid, the fantastic Indonesian clobberfest of 2012 in which a small squad of indestructible cops take on a thirty-storey block full of homicidal maniacs and beat seven shades of soot out of every single one of them. It was mad, relentless and insanely violent: a stripped-down action movie that made Steven Seagal's legendary mastery of martial arts look like Nureyev limbering up for the sad bit out of Swan Lake. And now: put down that DVD of The Raid.
The Raid 2 is a league above even The Raid: it's not just "more of the same", but bigger, longer, deeper. Two hours after the events of the first film, supercop Rama (Iko Uwais) is placed undercover in jail, to get close to Uco (Ucok according to the IMDb), the son of a leading politician/gangster and find evidence of police corruption. He gains his target's trust by saving him from an assassination attempt: when he gets out of jail he finds himself at the heart of a criminal organisation. But gang war is about to kick off....
Yeah, plot, whatever. There's a fight in a toilet, a fight in a porn studio, a fight in a nightclub, a fight in an alley, a fight on a train. There are fights with hammers, knives, baseball bats. There's an absolutely astonishing car chase (including a four-on-one fight in one of the cars) that you quite honestly won't believe. And it's done almost entirely for real rather than CGI, with minimal use of computer trickery (Hollywood movies apparently reach for the green screen every time a big-name star doesn't want to mess his hair up). The result is a series of breathtaking, eye-boggling action sequences in which bones are broken and heads are punched: I haven't winced at anything in a cinema since someone smashed their own ankle with a cistern lid in one of the Saw movies but I winced several times in The Raid 2. I can only assume that if a stuntman didn't end the shoot with a fractured skull at the very least, he didn't get paid.
But it's not as if there's nothing but hundreds of guys smacking hell out of each other: there's a lot more going on than just that. While The Raid concentrated on one incident and stripped away everything unnecessary for a no-nonsense B-movie (backstories, social context, character detail), The Raid 2 has a far wider, more epic scope. It's no longer one tower block, it's a whole city; it's no longer one mid-level crime lord, it's the far more powerful gangsters at the top. Granted, you don't need to know much about gimmicky self-explanatory henchpersons like Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl, but other minor characters are given depth: a homeless machete-wielding assassin has marital and family problems just as the hero does; time is spent with the politician/gangster's thoroughly odious son doing nothing more than hanging out in a private club berating a hooker. The film also manages to rack up a decent level of suspense from the simple fact that we know what will happen to Rama if his new employers ever find out he's a cop: so how long before Uco finds the bug Rama's placed in his wallet? Or if they find Rama's phone, they could track down his (barely seen but emotionally crucial) wife and the child he's never seen. This isn't massively complicated character material; it's actually very simple but brilliantly effective.
And then there's a massive fight scene in which people are thumped and stabbed and shot and thrown against concrete walls and metal cabinets. Sure, the fight sequences are the film's strongest suit, and they're the main attraction, but they're well enough spaced that the 150 minute running time flies by in a delirious blur of testosterone, adrenalin and sheer disbelief. I absolutely adore The Raid 2 and I can't wait to see it again: it's genuinely astonishing and my favourite film of 2014 so far.