The Raid: Redemption pulls no punches

Sometimes one can’t help but feel that audiences have grown complacent about what they’ll accept from Hollywood action films.

Action-packed · Rama, portrayed by Iko Uwais (left), packs a punch in Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption. The film shines as an example of martial arts wizardry with its fresh take on action and brilliant choreography. - Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

With a glut of uninspired, creatively unenthusiastic, gutless assembly line products hitting theaters, it’s difficult to get excited about the latest addition to the genre.

The Raid: Redemption is the antidote to such feelings: It doesn’t fall victim to recent trends in blockbuster filmmaking — it kicks them in the skull.

The story is as simple as they come. Iko Uwais plays Rama, a newcomer to the Indonesian equivalent of a SWAT team that’s been tasked with removing criminal powerhouse Tama (Ray Sahetaphy) from the 15-story apartment complex he’s made his stronghold.

To put it mildly, things don’t go smoothly, resulting in a single-location action movie that, strictly on the basis of kinetic excitement controlled in one building, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Die Hard.

The film is stripped down to the base elements and it all works seamlessly.

The opening scenes give viewers all of the context they need, quickly and effectively ramping up to the titular assault that encompasses the rest of the film. The pacing is perfect, with not a second wasted, every scene and set piece evolving into the next to create a thrilling hundred minutes of entertainment.

This movie truly wins itself a place in the annals of martial arts cinema. Using the Indonesian fighting style, Pencak Silat, the combatants move hypnotically yet brutally, displaying each outburst of crushing violence in all its captivating glory. Movements flow seamlessly, and every scene is edited so that the audience can easily follow the chaotic sequence of events without ever losing track of the combatants’ positions in relation to each other or the environment that they transform into their arena.

As easy as it is to get involved in the action, some might be tempted to turn away when they see how unabashed the film is in its ferocity. The Raid: Redemption isn’t the most graphic movie out there, but when so many PG-13 films neglect to show any bullet wounds, it comes as a bit of a wake-up call when the blood really starts flowing.

More notable than just the visual gore, however, is the way every punch, kick, gunshot and cut is intended to have the maximum impact not only on the characters but on audiences.

Each perfectly choreographed fight builds to a deeply satisfying, cheer-inducing climax that leaves viewers wondering how the next battle can possibly live up to the constantly rising bar.

The actors are so good at providing physical thrills that the viewer could easily forgive them if they weren’t talented outside of the more frenetic moments. Even then, they prove themselves perfectly satisfactory.

Uwais is hugely likable as Rama and is fortunate enough to look like an inherently good person — some people just have the face of a protagonist, and he’s one of them. The villains facing off against Rama also provide commendable performances. Yayan Ruhian impresses as the unassuming “Mad Dog,” the main physical adversary in the film whose jaw-dropping martial-arts prowess raises the stakes considerably.

Tama’s other enforcer, Andi (Doni Alamsyah), is perhaps the only character who really looks like an actor, but he handles some of the more dramatic material thrown his way, giving weight to a narrative that does exactly what it should: add depth without slowing things down for a moment.

Even with the achievements of the other actors, the centerpiece is Uwais. His only previous credit is Merantau, another martial-arts film from Raid director Gareth Evans. These two seem to have found a formula that, if properly harnessed, could result in superstar status for both of them.

Sure enough, “Redemption” was recently added to the film’s title to indicate that the film is the first in a planned trilogy. Even at this early stage, it is readily apparent that, if Evans and the rest of the team can maintain the quality of this first installment, they’ll produce one of the all-time great action sagas.

To anyone who finds that notion enticing, now is the time to get on board.