Let’s narrow it down: what’s the best action film you’ve seen that’s been released in the last five years? How about the last ten? In fact, can you even think of any at all? Chances are, no. That’s where Gareth Evan’s new martial arts extravaganza, filled to the brim with ridiculously violent yet incredibly fun action, leaves a mighty impression in 2012.
Filmed in Indonesia, and taking its cues from mentalist ’92 Hong Kong bullet-fest Hard Boiled, this much-hyped movie is gearing up for a global takeover. Rama, expecting father, is sent with his fellow SWAT team members to a Jakartan tower block for an exaggerated round of pest control; they’re there to eradicate the 30-floor hell hole of Tama, a megalomaniacal ‘landlord’, and his scum-of-the-earth tenants. They find themselves trapped, outnumbered, and outgunned – and the cinematic result is an absolute blast.
Expect smoking piles of clips, grenades, knives, machetes, and even a fridge used in the frenetic confrontations. Underneath the ingenious action beats that inevitably ensue, the storyline is conspicuously linear and episodic – but nonetheless stoically follows the tried and tested template presented to us on a stone tablet from the likes of John McClane and Jason Bourne, and gleefully indulges it in every dramatically compromising situation it can concoct. The shadow of the Asian martial arts legacy looms large, but The Raid has enough tricks of its own to keep any opposition from the last decade (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kung Fu Hustle a couple of the most notable examples) far at bay.
The simple formula means that it moves at a constantly breathless pace, only letting up in the more character-driven moments – and even then, the action is neatly swapped for nerve-frying tension. While the characters are more sketched than fleshed-out, and often slip in and out of the ‘who just died then?’ camp, it luckily suits the tone of the movie. After all, when the on-screen mortality rate is roughly two per minute, why get attached?
The Raid takes a very simple formula, indulges in the genre’s best tropes, and sprinkles enough character into the stressed-temple proceedings to elevate it into one of the best actioners in recent memory.