THE RAID 2 and the Art of the Hard Left Turn Sequel

Joe Dante faced a conundrum. The studio really, really wanted a sequel to Gremlins and was offering You-Are-An-Idiot-For-Saying-No-To-This amounts of money. But Gremlins was such an odd detour from Dante’s usual work and during production of the film he’d been forced to temper his instincts for anarchic humor and chaos with a more family friendly style. So how was he supposed to make something interesting as a follow up?

What Joe Dante did was create a sequel in which he trolled his own franchise. The vast majority of Gremlins 2: The New Batch is devoted to ruthlessly kicking the first film in the balls over and over again, while the remaining time is given over to staging some of the most jaw-droppingly elaborate live-action Looney Toon gag sequences ever. While the first Gremlins tempered the gleeful destruction from the titular critters with a mandated reverence for suburbs and ‘normalcy’, in the sequel Dante declares his allegiance to the joy of anarchy and the slimy, scaly bastards which bring it.

It’s the sort of film which can feature both the most cutting satire of corporate culture since Robocop, and a scene where Hulk Hogan angrily screams at gremlins to stop messing with the projection booth showing the movie which we, the audience are currently watching. It’s the sort of movie where Leonard Maltin pops up to repeat his pan of the original film, only to be murdered by angry gremlins, and a scene where a group of characters sit around and point out every single stupid bit of mythology which the first film hung on.

In making a film which inverted every single beat and point of the original film, Joe Dante created a sequel which is endlessly delightful and holds up to this day.

This day being twenty four years later, when Gareth Evans has done the exact same thing with The Raid 2.

Now, it’s not like Evans set out to mock his own film in the way that Dante did. At no point in The Raid 2 does he insult the audience for having seen the first movie. There are no wink-wink references or attempts to re-do sequences from the original so we can all go, “Oh cool, it’s that same thing from the first movie, but I’m seeing it again in a different movie, that’s so cool.”

Evans faced the question of how to follow up possibly the best action film of the past decade. His solution was to make a film that delivers the same mind-blowing action skill while the film proper serves as the counter to the original film’s nature. The Raid covers hours, The Raid 2 spans years. The Raid was famous for its immediacy and stripped-down narrative propulsion. The Raid 2 is patient, willing to let plots and shots play out with little hurry before arriving to the point. The Raid is claustrophobic and dingy, The Raid 2’s frame is expansive and features compositions that would make Kubrick’s eyes water.

Some love the change up, others either despised it on principle or simply didn’t think Evans executed the more elaborate and labyrinthine plotting as well as he could have. To each their own. But whether you love or hate The Raid 2, the film is a success in that it stands or falls on its own merits. Its action sequences, its storyline, its barrage of new characters and new situations; all are unique to the film and all serve to create a complete and full whole with only loose ties to the original film. Whether you think Evans made a great film or a lousy one, he deserves credit for making a real one instead of a re-hash.

Why don’t more filmmakers do this? Why do so many, when faced with the prospect of following up a success, seem to shrink back and settle for redoing what they think the audience liked about the first one over and over again. Comedies recycle gags only slightly modified (and the real hackworkers go so far as to have the characters within the movie point out that they are redoing gags, as if that makes it better) while action, horror and sci-fi sequels often resort to throwing familiar characters into the same situation again and hope that audiences will enjoy it just as much the second time.

They don’t. They don’t ever.

Hard left turn sequels like The New Batch or The Raid 2 are a much rarer breed. And it’s at least kind of understandable why these sort of films are viewed as major gambles. Off the top of my head, the only other sequels I can think of that tried the same sort of change up and succeeded were Romero’s subsequent of the Dead films, which took Night of the Living Dead’s claustrophobic nightmare and expanded it into an entire world of allegorical American destruction and also zombies. More often, when a series tries to distance themselves from previous entries, you get either laughable disasters like Jason Goes to Space or head-scratching disasters like Chronicles of Riddick: Vin Diesel Goes to Space.

So why do we embrace certain films that defiantly strike out from their predecessors and loathe others which attempt the same thing?

Partly it comes down to basic quality. Let me blow your damn mind and say that Gareth Evans knows how to shoot some flipping sweet action scenes, just as Dante knows his way around a bit of splatstick and Romero knew how to deliver powerful missives out of social outrage and also explode heads.

But what makes these gentlemen’s sequels function as both independent works and as follow-ups to what came before is that while the stories and tones diverge wildly, the thematic concerns are still very much the same from movie to movie. The Gremlins films are each about the war between a quiet, Rockwellian notion of Americana and explosive anarchy. It’s just that in one film, that wild force is meant to be feared while in the sequel it’s obvious that the director would love to lend a helping hand in burning down Trump, I mean Clamp Tower.

Similarly, yes The Raid 2 is wildly different from the initial film, but both films are obsessed with the same issues within their story, character and theme. Both Raid films depict a universe so bleak and harsh as to seem devoid of all morality, then introduce a moral man into that ecosystem and watch him stagger his way to bloody triumph. Regardless of the particulars which are besetting Rama (Iko Uwais), what interests Evans is seeing how this righteous figure deals with the onslaught of horror that he encounters. Whether he’s fighting for survival or navigating complex gangland tribal warfare, the central question is always concerned with Rama’s upstanding decency.

As long as filmmakers preserve these sort of central threads, there’s no end to the number of avenues and stories which can be pursued. The joy of fiction is in its ability to be limitless, so don’t impose limits on yourself. Imagine if Romero had decided that his sequel to Night of the Living Dead needed to be set within a farmhouse again, but with a different band of characters. Would there even be a zombie subgenre of horror for us all to be really damn done with nowadays?

Furthermore, if you swing big with your sequel and miss, at least it will be interesting. We all may scoff at Jason Voorhees being blasted into space, but I can tell you that at least Jason X is memorable in a way that that last remake wasn’t. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d much rather see a filmmaker try something totally insane and wacky and fail then just regurgitate the same damn story and lines and hope that everyone will like it.

Because we don’t. Not ever.

I can’t promise that you’ll love a movie like The Raid 2 or Gremlins 2, but films like this show what separates directors like Evans and Dante apart from the pack. They are not content to rest on past successes and cash in the checks. Instead, they strive to bring true excellence and experimentation to the cinematic form, packing films with technique, style, soul and also exploding heads.

More Cinapse coverage of The Raid 2:
 Ed Travis — THE RAID 2 Expands On The Original, Sacrifices Tightness For A New Scope
 James Carey — THE RAID 2: BERANDAL — UK Theatrical Review
 Austin Vashaw — The Films of Gareth Huw Evans: THE RAID 2, New On Blu

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