The Raid is a weapon in the hands of a deadly combatant: brutal, fast, technical – elegant even – and often covered in blood, but also steely cold, bleak and emotionless. Directed by Gareth Evans (Merantau), if all you’re after is delicious action then you’ll be pleased to hear that The Raid has all the back-breaking, neck-snapping, throat-slicing martial arts choreography and bullet-riddled corpses that you’ll need to last through the impending Mayan apocalypse.
At the same time however, the film doesn’t concern itself with things such as character development and cogent dramatic themes. To it, everyone is just a sack of sinew, bone and vulnerable parts to be taken advantage of for cheap thrills. The Raid is therefore action for the sake of action, which might be great for its target audience but it could do so much better if it actually had something resembling a story.
The premise: a 20-man SWAT team infiltrates a 30-floor apartment building to capture nefarious drug lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Rookie raid team member Rama (Iko Uwais) is the protagonist, if only because he has a pregnant wife that we see for all of a minute at the beginning of the movie. There are some other reasons too, but they’re nothing special. It’s enough that he’s a badass at martial arts.
The plot has been described as video-gamey, which isn’t entirely apt since many modern games have far superior storylines. Instead, it’s the film’s structure that mirrors video games but even then it’s still only akin to antiquated stuff from the 90s and earlier. Basically, the good guys move from floor to floor clearing out baddies – a generic assortment of thugs, some armed with guns and others their fists – and occasionally running into ‘boss’ characters who are a tougher than the fodder. One of these is given a name, Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). He finds guns to be too quick like ‘ordering takeout’ so prefers beating his opponents to a pulp.
Each floor is pretty much identical (the setting isn’t all that pretty to look at), but the onslaught of henchman is never truly tiresome thanks to the terrific choreography. Still, it’s kind of silly how fights would almost always be one-on-one even when there were multiple villains about. Indeed, it seemed like as soon as one person was knocked away there was already another ready and willing to jump in and take his place. As a result there were moments in The Raid when my eyes sort of glazed over and I felt like I was watching a dance rather than actual people actually punching, kicking, slicing and dicing. It’s all very technical and skilful but I just didn’t care outside of the minute-to-minute entertainment that a creative bout or kill provided.
Indonesian martial arts action movie The Raid is violent, bloody, brutal and deadly efficient, with lots of action but a story that pretty much ends at its premise and no characters worth caring about.