Director Gareth Evans’ flexes his action movie muscles with The Raid (2012), a no-holds barred, testosterone charged, Indonesian martial arts film that whilst rich in conflict and visual panache masks an immaterial script and any semblance of plot. In a Jakarta apartment, rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) prepares himself for an impending operation with an impressive routine of frantic exercises and reflective meditation, before suiting up and says goodbye to his pregnant wife.
Rama joins his colleges, a crack team of heavily armed police officers about to embark on a dawn raid of a dilapidated tenement block controlled by local crime lord, Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and his right hand men Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) and Andi (Donny Alamsyah). What should have been a routine procedure quickly becomes compromised the moment Tama becomes alerted to their presence, culminating in a close quarters war which sees an inordinate amounts of bullets fly and enough overtly stylised, close knit hand-to-hand fighting to emasculate the entire cast of The Expendables (2010).
The Raid is destined to be a huge hit, with Evans successfully creating a film which manages to amplify the heightened violence of a genre which many conservative observers have long decried as a serious contributor to our declining society. There’s no denying that the breathtaking choreography and frantic edits at play in The Raid are spectacular, culminating in an exhilarating and often exhausting ballet of adrenaline fuelled set pieces. Enhanced by the impressive physical performance of Pencak Silat specialist Uwais, Evans has yet again shown a remarkable flare for recreating the distinctive style of Eastern martial arts cinema.
Whilst clearly having mastered the ability to capture the raw physical energy required for such a high octane escapade, behind the film’s blood stained façade sadly lies the wraith-like foundations of a scrip – an element that anyone looking for more than just a pulsating 90 minutes of unrelenting fight sequences may find a hindrance. With the exception of just one of the film’s characters, each of the cast is painted as either a malevolent piece of cannon fodder or a steroid pumped action hero, add to this a rather flimsy and seemingly last minute attempt to make a socio-political criticism toward the corruption which is rife within Indonesia and you have a film which whilst high on thrills is ultimately lacking in substance.
As a ‘film’, The Raid finds itself lacking in numerous departments, yet as a pieces of escapist viewing it’ll certainly find itself a passionate audience of appreciative fans. For many, such trivial or pretentious criticisms will be of little consequence, and Evans’ film remains a bountiful collage of spectacular fight scenes and awe inspiring physical exertion. However, those who prefer their action with a generous side helping of wit and intelligence may find The Raid a rather tedious and tiresome experience.