Most martial arts movies have bad character development and stories. They’re only redeemed through their fight scenes. A swift kick to the jaw or a fist to the stomach can mean the difference between a train wreck and a good time. “The Raid: Redemption” is mostly bad: bad story, no character depth, and terrible acting. But the fight scenes. My god. The fight scenes.
Filled to the brim with the incompetent police work that only an action movie can justify, “The Raid” follows the rookie Rama (Iko Uwais, “The Raid: Berandal”) as he and his team fight through 30 floors of an apartment building, teeming with mobsters, gangsters, and psychopaths.
That’s really all the viewer needs to know. Some cursory character development attempts to give breadth to the violence, but the violence does just fine on its own. Uwais is boiling over with physical charisma, but any time he tries to act, it just feels wrong. And he’s not the only one. Without fail, every performance falls short.
The story doesn’t fare much better. Rama is a cop with a pregnant wife at home who pops up in a montage to remind the viewer she exists. Relationships between the cops are lightly implied before they’re torn apart. Ultimately, “The Raid” is not about relationships. Its gratuitous heart is in the action.
Each fight scene builds on the last. Director Evans is infatuated with stylish, intricately choreographed carnage. The bloodletting on display is dizzyingly brutal and never boring. Uwais truly shines here, showing that he can make up for his little acting experience in spades. Fists hit and heads bash with exacting force.
Swift camera work propels these sequences to another level. At points, it seems like Evans glues his shot to the characters, falling and shifting with them. The result is jarring, but keeps the narrative grounded.
It’s not a stretch to say that “The Raid: Redemption” is one of the best martial arts movies of recent memory. Evans wants viewers to revel in the action, and anything between flying fists is filler. These are the kinds of heart-pounding fight scenes that Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan performed at their peaks. If only the story could rend viewers expectations the same way.