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Police story lends resonance to the characters' dire fates while also serving as an elaborate backdrop for writer-director Gareth Evans' exquisite, escalating ballet of martial arts brutality

Martial arts mayhem in The Raid 2 

A ballet of brutality in The Raid 2

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

A ballet of brutality in The Raid 2

Among the endless array of assassins littering THE RAID 2, two are credited only as "Baseball Bat Man" and "Hammer Girl," which should give you an idea of the audacious violence in this Indonesian action opus.

Running nearly 50 minutes longer than 2011's The Raid: Redemption, with an equally inflated production budget, this sequel is distinctly more plot-driven than its critically acclaimed predecessor. The labyrinthine narrative picks up mere hours after the end of the first film, with a battered and bloody Rama (Iko Uwais) being persuaded by his Jakarta police minder to go undercover and infiltrate the influential Bangun crime family, exposing associated police corruption in the process.

First, Rama must ingratiate himself with Bangun's only son, Uco (Arifin Putra), an enforcer for his father's syndicate. This eventually puts Rama close to Bejo (Alex Abbad), a young, ambitious gangster responsible for killing Rama's brother, Andi (Donny Alamsyah).

While this expanded police story lends resonance to the characters' dire fates, it also serves as an elaborate backdrop for writer-director Gareth Evans' exquisite, escalating ballet of martial arts brutality. There's limitless fodder to provide the body counts for a muddy, bloody riot in a prison courtyard and a car chase where fisticuffs and gunfire roll into one thrilling sequence. A battle royale that starts inside a darkened nightclub culminates outside with a snow-covered death to the tune of a Handel sarabande. A firefight even breaks out at a back-alley porn studio.

Although having seen the first movie is essential to understanding the opening acts of the second, the sequel soon settles in as an exhilarating standalone. But there's a sublime symmetry in the fact that while Rama had to fight his way down a hellish high-rise in the first movie, he has to fight his way up another in the second, with each floor serving as an infernal circle on the path to vengeance.

The pacing and sequencing required to accommodate the film's strong suit—garish violence—unavoidably undercuts its dramatic aspirations. But The Raid 2 isn't after Oscars (although it might deserve a few). Ballistics, blades and balls-out action ultimately fuel this martial arts epic. Oh, and an aluminum bat and a couple of claw hammers.

This article appeared in print with the headline "The blood sports"

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