The Raid: Redemption was one of the best action films in years; if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re seriously missing out. This 2011 Indonesian film had enough brutal, beautifully choreographed action to fill three movies and it did it all with a runtime that clocked in at just over 100 minutes. There certainly wasn’t a lot of character development or backstory given, but Gareth Evans instead chose to drop us straight into the criminal infested apartment building, as a 20 member SWAT team attempted to take down the organization’s leader. Arriving three years after the original, The Raid 2 still has all of the insane action sequences that made the first so special. But it also has a better story, more interesting characters and some surprisingly emotional moments. It’s the rare sequel that doesn’t rely on the success of its predecessor; instead, Evans has taken this story in an exciting new direction.

After surviving the events of the first movie, Rama (Iko Uwais) is approached by Bunawar (Cok Simbara) and asked to go undercover to root out the corrupt cops in the city. Rama is initially skeptical, but he eventually agrees to go undercover as long as protection is provided for his family. Rama is placed in prison, where he goes by the name of Yuda and eventually gains the trust of Uco (Arifin Putra). When Rama is released from prison, Uco gives him a job in the criminal organization run by his father Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). As Rama continues to delve deeper undercover, a rival criminal organization begins to press forward and the result could be war in the city streets.

The Raid 2 may lack the fun, gimmicky premise of a swat team taking over an apartment complex that the original benefited from, but in its place is a well told crime tale. It’s a story whose basic premise we’ve seen before, but it’s told well here and the runtime, which is nearly an hour longer than its predecessor, coasts by with hardly any down moments. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the captivating cinematography from Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono only gets more sumptuous as the film progresses. The characters here are also well flushed out, much better than the thinly realized personalities in the first film. This time, Rama has more to do than just fight; he’s a man who has been undercover for too long and wants nothing more than to return home to his family. Uwais is great in the role and he’s able to give us an endearing protagonist that we’re willing to care for.

But nobody comes to this movie for the plot and the characters. While these aspects of the film are more than welcome, the only thing that anybody truly cares about in a film like this is that action and, oh boy, does The Raid 2 deliver. From the brutal opening scene, all the way to the blood soaked finale, the action never disappoints. This is a martial arts movie through and through and the entire cast conveys a complete mastery of the craft.  Evans holds onto his shots for much longer than an average action movie, resulting in fight sequences that feel completely genuine. Everything is so well choreographed and it’s edited together in a way that nobody misses a beat. If the prison yard riot, the high speed automotive chase, or the climactic battles between Rama and a hammer and baseball bat wielding pair of siblings doesn’t quench your thirst for action, I’m honestly hard pressed to think of anything that will.

Originally intended to be the first film in the Raid franchise (Evans began working on Redemption after failing to secure a big enough budget), The Raid 2 is a sequel that demonstrates how to differentiate and improve on the success of the original. The wide assortment of characters may initially make it difficult to understand where everybody’s loyalties lie, but this doesn’t put a damper on the stirring final 30 minutes. It’s sure to be one of the most violent films of the year, but for anyone willing to withstand the over the top violence, it’s practically guaranteed to turn them into a martial arts fanatic.

The Raid 2 receives 3.5/4