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You need to watch the most violent gangster crime thriller on HBO Max ASAP

In the 2010s, an Indonesian film franchise from a Welsh director beat Hollywood at the action game.

The best movie sequels tend to have something to say that their predecessors cannot. The Rebels have won the Death Star battle, but will they win the war? What’s to keep Skynet from trying to kill John Connor again? An immigrant bear has found a family in his new home... but what about a community?

Sure, in an age when corporate IP rules all, any movie can and will yield a sequel, but the good ones tend to be driven by something more than box office glory or copyright extension. They are driven by the progression of their predecessor’s story strengths, generally along lines of plot, theme, and character. Enter: The Raid 2.

The Raid 2 actually isn’t like that. Ostensibly, its predecessor, The Raid: Redemption, follows rookie cop Brimob Rama (Iko Uwais) as he and his elite squad raid a Jakarta apartment block in an attempt to arrest the crime lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). But when action cinephiles around the world fell over themselves to tell casual movie-goers about the 2011 Indonesian film, it wasn’t about the plot, it wasn’t about the themes, and it wasn’t about the characters.

It was about form, and how Welsh director Gareth Evans depicted violence on-screen. It was about how he relied on a team of skilled stunt fighters who specialize in the Indonesia martial art of Pencak Silat rather than CGI and Hollywood editing tricks to tell a breathless, brutal action story that rarely cuts away from a hit. In The Raid, there’s zero filler between the action beats because the action is the story. The movie never pretends to be anything else. And because it is so good, it doesn’t have to either.

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Because of the nature of The Raid, fans were not necessarily gunning for a sequel. (Sure, people who loved The Raid: Redemption were eager to see what Evans would do next, but the intentionally limited scope and setting of the film’s scenario didn’t particularly inspire heated discussions about the fates of these characters or this world.) But Evans apparently was gunning for a sequel—or at least an excuse.

“Before The Raid, I tried to get another film set up that was a much bigger budget thing, which became The Raid 2,” he told Forbes in 2021. “When I did the first film, I was getting offered a lot of stuff to go off and do something in America, but I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I can now secure the funding to make the movie I wanted to make originally.’”

What did Evans want to make originally? A story much wider in scope, and much more similar in narrative sensibilities to the British TV show Evans would go on to co-create alongside Matt Flannery: Gangs of London. Like that smash hit of a series, The Raid 2 is a contemporary crime saga— but, while Gangs of London is about the clashes between rival gangs in, er, London, The Raid 2 expands out past that Jakarta apartment block to the city’s larger criminal underworld.

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In The Raid 2, we catch back up with Rama hours after the events of the first film. Quickly, he is pulled into a new, much bigger, Infernal Affairs-esque dilemma that proves Redemption’s Tama was merely a medium-sized fish in a very, very big pond. When Rama’s brother is killed by gangster up-start Bejo (Alex Abbad), Rama agrees to go undercover to bring down Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), one of the two crime lords who control the city. He heads to prison, befriends Bangun’s son, Uco (Arifin Putra), and sets about the long con. The two men get out of jail, and Rama effectively infiltrates Bangun’s syndicate — that’s when things really start getting messy.

If this all sounds like more of an origin story than a sequel, your instincts are good. As hinted at before, the film is based on Berandal, a script Evans penned in 2009 and was unable to find funding for prior to the success of The Raid. That movie was constructed as a standalone action film, which gives The Raid 2 many story elements we traditionally associate with the first film in a series — think Batman Begins versus The Dark Knight — and, in retrospect, makes The Raid: Redemption feel more like a prequel than the launch of a larger story.

The transition shouldn’t work. These are two different narratives that Evans didn’t initially intend to connect, but because The Raid’s strengths were never in its plot or characters but rather his direction and editing of action, it does. It is a film franchise ostensibly tied together by story but more firmly tied together by a common and utterly novel film style.

Sony Pictures Classics

If the best movie sequels expand on what their predecessors did well, then The Raid 2 takes the meticulous fight choreography and cinematic execution of The Raid: Redemption and moves it into more and varied contexts: a subway car, a noodle shop, a wine cellar. I headed into The Raid 2 worried that the novelty found in The Raid: Redemption would be necessarily lost — because that’s the nature of novelty — but Evans is able to hold onto his filmic momentum not by scaling up so much as maintaining an incredible and precise focus on what he cares about.

“I don't like having four or five things that are on the back burner,” said Evans, who also edited The Raid films, in that same Forbes interview. “That's never really been my thing.  I hate it if I have two things going simultaneously, never mind four or five projects.”

Despite having a fraction of the budget of a blockbuster (a little over $1 million), The Raid: Redemption beat Hollywood at its own game by taking a limitation of setting and turning it into a strength, by focusing on the smallest detail of fight choreography and how to shoot it in order to come up with the cleanest, most visceral sequences. It’s impressive that The Raid 2 — a movie with access to greater resources ($4.5 million), which can often lead to messier execution—is able to hold onto that quality while expanding its scope in so many obvious ways. In The Raid: Redemption, Evans proved he could beat Hollywood at their own game. In The Raid 2, he does a better-resourced victory lap.

The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 are streaming on HBO Max until August 31.

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