Gareth Evans’ Indonesian martial-arts throwback The Raid: Redemption has a look and feel that resembles the best of ’80s cult action movies: half John Carpenter, half John Woo. It’s all grainy and underlit, with shots framed just tight enough to keep the audience from seeing how little of the set has been dressed. Meanwhile, Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese’s score (added to the U.S. version) is moody and synthetic, more like sound effects than music. The Raid is not some ironic or tongue-in-cheek retro exercise, like Machete or Hobo With A Shotgun. Evans is using old-school methods to make an old-school movie, out of a deep respect for unapologetic badassery.
The Raid: Redemption brings back the star of Evans’ 2009 actioner Merantau, Iko Uwais, who plays a rookie officer on a suicide mission, tasked to storm a dingy Jakarta apartment building controlled by a ganglord. The action in The Raid starts early and never really relents. Uwais (a practitioner of a rubbery, rapid form of martial arts known as pencak silat) fights his way through one room full of bad guys after another, while the building’s inhabitants make tough life-or-death decisions, choosing whether to help the police or stay out of the way. There are a few tense, twisty suspense sequences as the gangsters hunt the heroes—and a subplot about Uwais trying to save his wayward brother—but for the most part, The Raid’s plot is uncomplicated. Cops. Crooks. Raid. Done.
Of course, “story” isn’t what most people will be looking for from The Raid: Redempton, which is first and foremost an orgy of violence. Bullets, fists, and blades all fly, captured by Evans via a constantly moving, frequently gravity-defying camera. The emphasis here is speed: The fight choreography is blisteringly quick, designed to make viewers gasp, and then cheer. The only real knock against the film is that there’s no real variation in tone or plot from start to finish. Watch any given 15 minutes of The Raid and you’ve pretty much seen The Raid. But why would you only watch 15 minutes?