The James Clayton Column: You need The Raid 2, you need violent films

With The Raid 2 arriving in UK cinemas too, James wants a word about violent movies...

The Raid 2 is now out in cinemas. I really recommend that you go and see this film. In fact, I urge you to stop whatever you’re doing right now and head directly to the nearest movie theatre so that you can experience it immediately. True, it may not be showing for several hours, but that just means you’ll get there early and that would be ideal. You’re going to need time to settle into your seat and get comfortable before the carnage unfolds.

Still here? Get up, get out and go see The Raid 2. I am mentally slapping you across the face (with a dash of silat martial arts style) as I write this in the hope that I can telekinetically shock some sense into you and motivate you to act accordingly. Whatever you’re doing – ‘work’, advanced procrastination, making coffee, giving birth, reading frivolous and self-indulgent articles on pop culture websites – drop it right now and head directly to a place that’s screening The Raid 2. All these insignificant trivialities, responsibilities, ‘real life’ things and suchlike are all, at this precise moment, irrelevant. The most important thing on the agenda today is The Raid 2.

While you’re going, perhaps grab friends and family members and drag them along to the cinema with you. Actually, just get a hold of anyone you can find and compel them to come along because The Raid 2 is even better as a shared experience. In total, the more people seeing this film the better because it deserves a good box office performance and is, in my humble opinion, an essential motion picture that has to be seen.

Why is The Raid 2 so important? Quite simply, it’s the sequel to The Raid – the 2011 breakout Indonesian action revelation directed by Welshman Gareth Evans. That film – titled The Raid: Redemption in some territories – is a quintessential paragon of pure action cinema. It is a relentless hundred-minute-long orgy of bullets and silat fist-foot-and-elbow fighting in which many bones are fractured, several necks are snapped and an ugly collection of faces are pulped. It exhilarated a global audience, attained cult status and now we have the long-awaited follow-up.

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Sequel logic says “go bigger” and The Raid 2 – or The Raid: Berandal which means “Thug” – does indeed go bigger, longer and more full-on-intense. The Raid‘s synopsis was straightforward – cops raiding a tenement block in the Jakarta slums get trapped in the building and good cop Rama (the charismatic, ass-kicking Iko Uwais) beats the living hell out of the crimelords who rule the roost, as per martial arts movie convention. 

The Raid 2 retains the furious brutality of its predecessor but this fresh rendezvous with Rama has grander ambitions than the bare (broken) bones action thriller template. Here Evans is shooting for epic organised crime opera and the end result racks up with a greater running time (two-and-a-half hours), a greater bodycount, more interweaving plot strands and, altogether, far greater scope and dramatic ambition.

The Raid‘s mythos is expanded with Rama now operating undercover in the Jakarta underworld – a world teeming with idiosyncratic killers and utter lowlife, all of whom are just begging to be kiboshed in a creative battle sequence. His mission to louse out corrupt cops is complicated as all parties become embroiled in complex inter-clan power struggles.

It’s a different beast to the first film, recalling as it does classic ‘inside mole-man’ movies like Donnie Brasco and Infernal Affairs while simultaneously nodding towards yakuza flicks and artful mob land meditations like The Godfather. I discern shades of Shakespeare in this richer, more nuanced creation – is this the contemporary Indonesian Titus Andronicus? – but, of course, the major draw is the fighting.

Brought out into the wider world beyond those tower block walls, Uwais and his co-stars – all highly skilled stunt performers – now have an eclectic array of environments in which to stage jaw-dropping set-pieces. The Raid 2 actually does the unthinkable and manages to eclipse the first film on the fight sequence front by packing in over a dozen spectacular showdown moments- every single one of them an action cinema masterclass resulting from inventive choreography and awe-inspiring physical performance.

Mark my words, the ruckuses that rumble in a prison toilet cubicle, a mudbath of a prison yard, the backseats of several cars, a restaurant kitchen and other quite-unlikely locations will thrill and amaze you. And don’t even get me started on Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl. I’ll say no more because I don’t want to spoil all the nice surprises. Just go and see The Raid 2 for yourself if you haven’t already left to do just that. You can trust my recommendation because I’m a sophisticated man of good taste and some knowledge in the cinematic arts.

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Of course, you may still have objections and others have objected to Evans’ films. The objectionable aspect is the hyper-violence. Putting my cards on the table and then smashing the table and using the broken legs as mêlée weapons, as a rule I don’t agree with those who actively oppose violent pop cultural products. I definitely don’t agree with those who adopt moral guardian postures and fling around condemnatory words like “unnecessary” and immoral” when they encounter artworks that revel in ultraviolence and betray what may be perceived as an amoral or ambivalent attitude.

Counter to such judgements, it’s my belief that, actually, we need to experience excessive odysseys of debasement, destruction and bloody-grim death like The Raid and The Raid 2. I say this as a pacifist humanitarian who abhors the idea of harming another creature. I am also a man who loves few things more than watching ridiculously violent movies. Coming from this perspective and keen to celebrate a modern hard action masterpiece upon its release, I thought it would a good idea to put forward a few reasons why violent films are good for you.

For anyone troubled by violent art – films, TV, videogames and literature – and concerned about their impact on individuals and society, I hope this list eases your qualms and convinces you to kick back (kick off?) tonight with an outstandingly brutal movie – ideally The Raid 2.

Violent films are beautiful and artistic

Note the “art” in “martial arts”. That’s not just a fanciful affectation – violence is an art and can be styled in such fashion to ensure that it’s a wondrous and beautiful thing to behold. Film crews – directors, cinematographers, actors, stunt teams, editors, etc. – all collectively work to present pieces of visual poetry and the discerning, appreciative eye can find aesthetic pleasure in the choreographed motions of action cinema. Even if we’re witnessing ungainly brawls and grisly bloodbaths as opposed to graceful martial arts movement, there’s still pure, primal beauty in the action if you regard it from the right perspective.

Really, fight sequences are just like dance sequences, except people get hurt and die and that might be the most satisfying finale to any piece of performance art. What’s more, it’s only fair that audiences see the labours of hard-working artistes and appreciate their skill and dedicated commitment to their craft.

Violent films are fun and entertaining

Are you not entertained? Gladiator truism – human beings love combat and get a huge kick out of violence in all its various guises. This is why we have competitive combat sports, why slapstick comedy continues to make people laugh and why the concept of schadenfreude has so much currency in mainstream culture and society. Folk love a good fight and the adrenaline-rush of ultraviolent action brings much joy to those looking for pulse-raising excitement or gratuitous sadism. Watching fictional people get beat up is an absolute blast – pain for pleasure, the thrill of war and the potential for great hilarity and physical comedy in violent scenarios all appealing to our natural tastes.

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Violent films soothe our fundamental primal urges

In a relatively short space of time, humans have evolved from beasts to ‘civilised’ social creatures with certain genteel standards and moral codes that admonish and suppress the animalistic traits of earlier developmental eras. As a species we’ve still not properly adjusted so the brute urges of our ancestors are still present though they are suppressed beneath the surface, itching to attack and kill and savage without compunction or care for social rules.

Repression is unhealthy and we need to connect with our inner atavism in order to soothe our psychic needs and become one with our primordial raw nature. We can either do this by going down the Fight Club route (perhaps too extreme) or by immersing ourselves in visceral, ultraviolent pop culture. By surrendering ourselves to savage screenworks we successfully sate the bloodlust of our inner Neanderthals and do beneficial soul-work by embracing the raw beast nature deep within.

Violent films stop people from being violent

By fulfilling those sadistic needs, violent movies scratch an itch and, counter to common thought, actually make viewers less violent. Spectators are allowed the opportunity to expel their aggressive energies, even if it’s only via vicarious means, and get to exorcise and play out their primal drives when they watch action movies. The projections – both psychic projections and actual, tangible audiovisual projections – operate as wish-fulfilment fantasies to those who yearn to beat someone’s brain in with baseball bat, for instance.

We may want to do that but we can’t act upon those compulsions if we also wish to be law-abiding citizens guided in our behaviour by our compassionate virtues and more sociable proclivities. Simulated screen violence allows us to voyeuristically experience what we long for and, having got what we desire and need, we don’t run amok and unleash our pent-up frustrations on the ‘real world’ around us.

Violent films reflect off-screen reality

That ‘real world’ is, in fact, a very violent place. You need only read or watch the news to confirm that. It’s a world of crime, warfare and wanton inhumanity and that is factual actuality both for historical and contemporary times. Art reflects the society in which it is produced and so, quite naturally, violence will be a feature of a great many movies and a great many movies will aim to represent the uglier, more unseemly facets of the world in screen stories. Even if creative entertainments are stylistic and dramatic, they’re still expressing human truths and mirroring the kind of stuff that has happened and is happening in reality.

This is useful for us, because violent films can increase our awareness of the real world, help us explore the nature of our society and grapple with critical moral issues and questions. By presenting violence and showing the causes and consequences of conflict in the safe space of the cinema in a creative simulation, movies encourage humans to reflect upon themselves, their ideologies, their culture and their society.

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Altogether, violence movies are essential as both entertainment and intellectual stimulation. Now go and see The Raid 2. It’s the contemporary Indonesian Titus Andronicus and it’s got a killer prison toilet cubicle fight scene.

James Clayton is the most non-violent violence enthusiast on the scene and if you disagree he will fight you without fighting you. Ah, forget it. Let’s be friends and go and see The Raid 2 together.  You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter

You can read James’ last column here.

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