Leaving behind the original's grungy Jakarta tenement setting for the luxurious hangouts of Indonesia's organized crime overlords, "The Raid 2" pumps up its production values several notches.
Even so, it's easy to imagine that one of the biggest items on the budget might be the orthopedics bill, since this orgy of broken bones makes its cult predecessor look like a peevish slap. Lining up bloody showdowns like the dizzying acts of a hyper-violent ballet, Gareth Evans' sequel invites accusations of, ahem, overkill. But the fanboys will eat it up.
There's more of pretty much everything in this sequel. That means it sacrifices some of the purity of the first movie, which had its share of weaponry but was rendered exciting and distinctive primarily by its virtuoso assaults of lethal fists and feet on flesh.
Visceral in the extreme, the bravura martial arts mayhem still takes pride of place, choreographed again by lead actor Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, who also appears, though as a different character from last time. But Evans expands the hardware beyond the usual guns and knives, giving some of his assassins their own special tools.
Uwais returns as police officer Rama, but his bad-seed brother, Andi (Donny Alamsyah), isn't so lucky. He gets iced in the opening minutes in a sugarcane field by Bejo (Alex Abbad), a half-Arab gangster looking to grow his territory. Bejo tells Andi that ambition and limitation don't mix well in the underworld. That unfortunate combination applies to more than one criminal upstart here, Bejo included.
Demonstrating that the cops are almost as ruthless as the crooks, Rama is forced to go undercover in an anti-corruption task force, with the understanding that the safety of his wife and child depend on it. He's cornered into doing prison time to get close to Ucok (Arifin Putra), the cocky son of old-school crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), whose syndicate co-exists peacefully with that of his Japanese counterpart, Goto (Kenichi Endo).
In a great kickoff to the fight action, Rama gets Ucok's attention by single-handedly dispatching the welcome committee with little more than a steel bathroom door. While the cop initially refuses overtures to join the mob scion's gang, he steps in when Ucok's life is threatened. The gritty squalor of the prison is the chief visual link with the grubby aesthetic of the first movie. It's also the setting for a massive smackdown when all hell breaks loose in the muddy courtyard after a downpour. Rama shows his resourcefulness by making creative use of a broom handle, earning Ucok's respect and loyalty.
Cut to two years later, when Rama is ushered upon his release into Bangun's employ. Nervous about keeping his identity under wraps, he receives little help or reassurance from his police supervisor. He proves his worth to Bangun, but the cop's safety is jeopardized when Ucok starts rocking the boat, looking for advancement from his reluctant father. His dissatisfaction becomes known beyond the organization, bringing an offer from Bejo to team up and start a war between Bangun and Goto while honing in on their territory.
If the conflict between brothers was central to "The Raid," the divide between father and son dominates this one. The characters are surprisingly well drawn for a movie so predominantly physical, and the lead actors all make vivid impressions. Alongside the broodingly charismatic fighting machine Uwais, Putra makes Ucok's arrogant stupidity compelling (and what he does with a karaoke microphone is certainly a new tune), while Oka Antara brings quiet gravitas to Bangun's trusted right-hand man, who harbors a secret.
Evans gives the audience a knowing wink by having Rama endure repeated batterings that would leave mere mortals in traction, not to mention some nasty blade wounds. Yet he keeps coming back, finding the stamina to snap more limbs and crush more skulls.