The Raid – Review

The Raid (2011) 

Written & Directed by Gareth Evans. Cast Iko UwaisJoe Taslim.

Ok, let me start with a little confession: I am not a huge martial arts fan, I have always been quite indifferent to Bruce Lee,  I can hardly tell the difference between Jet Li and Yuen Biao and to this day I still don’t get all the fuss with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (I know, I know… but hey… nobody is perfect!). However I am a great action-flick-lover, so much so that I able  to bypass this feeling of indifference and still appreciate and enjoy a martial-arts-based action movie, whether it’s karate kid, blade, Hero, 13 Assassins, Ong-bak (especially the first) and even the recent Warrior.

So when I heard that this was “one of the best action/martial arts movie of the last few years” (or so the papers said), I could hardly resist checking it out for myself.

Let’s get this out of the way right from the start, so you’ll know the kind of movie we’re dealing with here: the story is minimal, in fact it doesn’t really matter. The raid is 100 minutes long and has action, fights and shoot-outs for at least 95 of them!! It is an incredible tour de force like no other: 95 minutes of people shooting at each other and fighting with all sorts of weapons, knives, machetes, bare hands… and that’s pretty much it. There’s not a lot of attempt at creating three-dimensional characters, or at giving a back-story. It’s just unrelenting action unravelling in front of your eyes.

You may wonder: doesn’t it get a bit tedious after a while? Well, this is the incredible strength of the raid: not only it gets away with it, but it’s also fascinating. Watching the choreography of these fights is almost like watching a ballet at the opera, or a dance in a theatre. It is mesmerising at best. And once a fight has reached its climax and it’s about to run out of steam, a new one comes along, faster, slicker, more inventive and even more over-the-top than the previous one.

This is unlike anything we’ve seen before. I don’t think I ever remember watching a film which had this insane amount of action, with hardly a moment to breathe. Yes, some of the fights might go on for a little bit too long, but let’s stop picking needles please! It is amazing, full stop.

Welsh director Gareth Evans obviously belongs to the PS3/X-Box age and the film does look like one of those shoot-them up games, where you’re moving from one level to the next as your enemies become more and more dangerous and the amount of violence and blood increases more and more. Even the building itself with its muted colour and its endless claustrophobic and shabby corridors look straight out of a bad dream while its exterior is reminiscent of a digital creation.

But Gareth Evans is not just playing a game here, he has studied his genre inside-out and throughout The Raid you can spot reminders of John Woo (Hard Boiled, of course), Sam Peckinpah, John Carpenter and of course those thousand martial arts movies from Bruce Lee, to Jackie Chan. However Evans is not just another fanboy willing to make a pastiche out his sources (Did you get that, Mr. Tarantino?!), he’s actually able to create his own action-packed, adrenaline-fuelled and pulsating and visceral movie, whipped along by a propulsive score and the deafening drum-roll of automatic fire guns as the pace never lets up leaving no room for humour and irony. He plays it straight and comes up with a real winner.

8.5/10

The Avengers – Review

THE AVENGERS (2012) 

Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr.Chris EvansMark RuffaloChris HemsworthScarlett JohanssonJeremy RennerSamuel L. JacksonGwyneth PaltrowTom Hiddleston.

At the time I’m writing this, just 2 weeks after its release, the Avengers (or as it is, stupidly, known in the UK, Avengers Assembled) has already broken all the possible records at the box office (biggest opening, biggest week-end, biggest poster, longest end-credits and so on) and it’s fast and steadily climbing along the list of the top grossing movies in history. So basically no matter what I think or say (read as “bugger off moviegeek!”), this movie is a massive success anyway! To be anti-Avengers would mean being pretty much against anyone who’d be interested in reading this blog… So going into the theatre I had a certain trepidation and fear at the same time… What if I don’t like it? Will I be able to tell my friends… and readers?

Well, you know what? We can all relax, because I actually found the Avengers (I’m sorry, but I refuse to call it with the UK title), not just entertaining, but actually among the best movie about superheros I’ve seen in a while. It is certainly up there with both Spiderman 2 (my favourite from the Spiderman-Raimi trilogy… but then again I have a Spidey soft spot), and, might not be as stylish those first two Nolan-directed Batman movies, but it’s certainly a lot more fun.

If you’re going to see a superhero movie, this is exactly as it should be! And if you’re going to see a movie where lots of superheroes get together, this is exactly as it should be done!

Hats off to Marvel and Joss Whedon, whose gamble seems to have really paid off!

We’ve been teased by tantalising snippets, trailers and film clips for years and the expectations seemed to be just a little bit too grand to be gracefully met… and yet the Avengers is everything it should have been and probably a bit more than that.

It understands exactly what comics are and the kind of wide range audience they are speaking to: for a start it is all very light and tongue-in-cheek the way it should be (after all this is a make-believe-world where people fly, turn green and travel from space), it is very funny (I surprised myself a couple of times laughing out-loud as I had not done in a long time in an action film. There a couple of moments involving the Hulk which caused the biggest and most spontaneous laugh from an audience I can remember since Indiana Jones shot the sword-man in Raiders of the lost Ark). But aside from this, however far-fetched and silly it all is, the action is done skilfully, the story is told with conviction and characters are rooted in enough reality to make it all much more enjoyable, so that even though you know exactly that no superhero is ever going to die, you are still sitting on the edge of your seat trying to work out how on earth they’re all going to come out alive.

The film is beautifully balanced, filmed and crafted with meticulous attention by a studio and a director who clearly care and they are not just going for the big explosions a-la Transformers (though, you do get those too!). Whedon has created a something for the hard-core fans, the geeks and nerds but also the freshman, the first-timer and the novice. He gives each character the right amount screen-time and whoever you’re a fan of, you won’t feel shortchanged. He created the perfect baddie, he orchestrated the smoothest actions scenes, fast and yet always clear. He even answered the ultimate geeky questions like “Who’s stronger Thor or Captain America? Iron Man or the Hulk?”, but on the other hand he was always aware of his newcomers and gives them enough information to be able to enjoy the film and follow the story without resorting to boring expositions.

Clocking at around 2 hours and a half the Avengers rarely looses its steam (it has a bit of a dip just before the last battle, but it picks up straight away and it’s hardly noticeable): yes you may argue both the two great action set-pieces go on for a little too long, but there are so many characters to follow, that it’s a weakness I’m willing to forgive.

The Special Effects are pretty seamless and the music is well judged throughout: you get the hero theme, but also you get the silence when there should be some. Even the 3D wasn’t as annoying as it usually is and the retro-fitting was very well done too.

Of course, it’s ludicrous, but hey, it’s the Avengers, it’s not a arty-French drama!  To be honest I had not had so much fun watching an action movie in a long time! Only one suggestion: try to watch it in a packed cinema with an audience of fans and just go with it!

Does it deserve to be the third top grossing movie in history? Certainly not, but as long as it knocks down Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest I’m happy.

7.5/10

CHECK OUT MY OTHER REVIEWS OF SUPERHEROES:

Thor

Captain America

Green Lantern

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