The week in movies: ‘The Raid 2,’ ‘Noah’ and more

I’m a little embarrassed at how much I enjoyed “The Raid 2,” Gareth Evans’ sequel to his blistering 2011 action film, “The Raid.” So let me be exceptionally clear:

“The Raid 2” may be the most graphically violent movie in recent memory – and that’s taking into account the various Korean crime and horror films that have reached these shores in the past few years. If you are squeamish about, say, a martial-arts battle in which one character fills her hands with a pair of clawhammers – and uses them rigorously against an army of attackers in a subway car – stay away.

But if you want to see an action director at the top of his form – willing to jack up the level of intensity (and the extreme violence) with each scene for a solid two and a half hours – well, this movie is for you.

“The Raid” was an invigoratingly original action film about a rookie cop named Rama (Iko Uwais), who is part of an elite force in Jakarta, tasked with invading a massive apartment building that serves as safe house to the city’s worst criminals. Once the SWAT team is about halfway to the top of the building – en route to grabbing the crime boss who lives there – the boss himself gets on the building’s intercom and tells everyone in the building to attack the cops. Wild action ensues.

“The Raid 2” picks up almost immediately after the end of the first film. Rama’s boss tells him that, while the raid was successful, it has not rooted out the corruption in the top ranks of the police. So Rama is being sent undercover to infiltrate another crime boss’ operation, in hopes of getting the evidence necessary. To do so, he is sent to prison to ingratiate himself with the crime boss’ son, saving his life and earning a place in the crime boss’ operation.

There are double-crosses galore and outbreaks of outlandishly grisly action every few minutes. But, unlike most American action films, Evans doesn’t rely on gunplay for excitement, gunplay being the least thrilling type of movie action. Almost all of the action here is hand-to-hand, face-to-face – and downright brutal. Yet with each raise in the action ante, Evans finds a way to make it fresh, to push farther and farther without snapping the elastic bond of suspended disbelief or repeating himself.

“The Raid 2” is unbearably tense, exceptionally original and wall-to-wall action like you’ve never seen it before. Again, a warning: This is NOT a movie for people who are upset by screen violence. It may test the limits of even veteran action fans – or satisfy them in a way they never thought possible.

Darren Aronofsky is one of the most visionary directors of his generation, a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to challenge an audience or to entertain it. I may not always like his films but they always give me a lot to think about.

Mostly what I was thinking after I saw “Noah” was: Who is going to want to see this film? Apparently, the Christian Right already has a problem with the movie because, I guess, it’s not worshipful enough: too much violence and, you know, questioning (which may be the worst sin for the blind-faith demographic).

This review continues on my website.

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