Movie Reviews: Raid – Redemption, and The Hunger Games

The Raid: Redemption directed by Gareth Evans

“It’s pretty good, for an action movie.”

That’s a common description, but one that’s filled with as much derision as it is praise. Certain movie genres are considered so detestable that no manner of skill or talent could possibly transcend them. You’re praising, but apologizing at the same time…and movies you have to apologize for probably weren’t worth watching in the first place.

The Raid: Redemption is worth watching, I’m happy to report. And by “worth watching” I mean “Get your lazy ass down to the theatre right now and watch one of the very best pure action movies of the  last decade.” Please.

Our hero here is Rama (played ably by Iwo Uwais, a martial artist and actor so monstrously talented that my wife took as many opportunities as she could during the movie to inform me that he is now her secret boyfriend), a member of an  Indonesian SWAT team sent to arrest a crime lord  holed up in a tenement infested with criminals, drug addicts, and other tawdry assundries.

The team finds out almost immediately that things are NOT the way they seem on the surface, and Rama spends the rest of the movie kicking, punching, stabbing, and shooting dozens upon dozens of criminals just to keep his team alive.

The plot is so utterly straight-forward that it makes “See Spot Run” look like Inception: Guy with pregnant wife fights bad guys to get back to pregnant wife. That level of simplicity would usually deter me from fully enjoying something like this. But in the case of The Raid the efficiency of the story, as well as the earnestness and baldly straight-forward nature of the character motivations, served only to accentuate the brutal nature of the violence that we’re watching.

And violent it is. This my friends, is a big, overflowing bucket of ass-kickery. Since Rama is a cop, the movie starts out as a traditional shoot-em up, with Rama attempting to use weapons as well as his surroundings to get out. And then he runs out of bullets. And so the punching commences. Good lord, the punching.

Gareth Evans seems to know what his audiences have come for, and so has artfully put together a series of wildly disparate action scenes, each taking full advantage of that fight’s surroundings. Not only that, but Evans also takes the time to build JUST enough depth into his characters to make us truly care about what’s happening to them.

Don’t get me wrong. This is “just” a simple action movie, with nothing much more than “punch the bad guys till they stop” going for it. But it’s one the best simple action movies you’ll ever see, and I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the very best martial arts films of this new millennium.

Rating: A-

The Hunger Games directed by Gary Ross

Odds are that by now you are familiar with the media-gasm known as The Hunger Games. It’s a movie based on the first book in a trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, and while a month ago you had never heard of it, by now you either have seen it, or have been properly castigated by the media for not having seen it, or your name is Rick Santorum.

But is it actually any good?

Sure. It’s a solid adventure movie. But it’s hardly perfect, and while it’s nice to see the movie industry do well, this should be a wake up call to studios. Hunger Games didn’t do $155 million in three days because it’s a great movie, though it’s watchable of course. It did $155 million in three days because every single media outlet in the world told every single person in the world that if they didn’t see it, then they were about one rung lower than George Zimmerman in the pecking order of society.

Our story revolves around Katniss, a young girl just struggling to provide for her family in a dystopian future where 12 colonies struggle to pay tribute to the Capital that conquered them decades before. Her young sister has just been randomly chosen to be her village’s annual cannon fodder in the gladiator-style games that this society takes part of, and Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

One of the best compliments I could give to Hunger Games is to compare it to 1984, saying that like Orwell’s seminal masterpiece it plays across all ideological spectrums, letting the reader take from it what they will. And it’s kind of true. Conservatives will say that this is the society you get when a central authority overreaches over the satellite states it’s supposed to manage, and will use it as an example as to why “provincial autonomy” (or “states rights”, if you’re one of my friends to the south) should be considered sacrosanct. Liberals will say that it’s a cautionary tale about the rich taking advantage of the poor, and will use it to rail against the financial tyranny of the “1 %”.

And most will just enjoy it as a moderately entertaining adventure story. Because that’s what it really is. It lacks the visceral danger that seeps out of every poor from books like The Long Walk or Battle Royale (just 2 of the many novels that come to mind when watching this), and there isn’t a single minute where you truly worry about whether or not Katniss will survive this “epic” battle to the death.

Gary Ross does a fairly nice job of world building here, but as a warning against possible futures to come The Hunger Games is relatively toothless. Which is probably why it’s so popular. It’s so far removed from our own reality that it’s easy to project your own politics or worldview onto the characters, and it’s so tame and watered down as to really remove any actual “hunger” that one should find in such a dire scenario. As a moderately entertaining adventure movie this works, but when compared to other works in the “dystopian” genre like Brazil, or Clockwork Orange, or V For Vendetta, or 12 Monkeys, or even Sleeper, it fails miserably.

Rating: B

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