The Raid: Redemption (fight 4 of 5)

Drug bust.

Face bust.

3) Drug Lab Assault

The Fighters:

  • Rama, our hero, now patched up and rested a bit from his previous encounters. Played by Iko Uwais
  • Wahyu, the police lieutenant in charge of the mission. Older and in worse shape than any of the other team members (and sporting hilarious bleach blonde hair), but plenty mean enough. It’s come out by now that Wahyu is deeply corrupt and has outlived his usefulness, which is why he’s ordered this raid as a sort of last-ditch shot for leverage. His companions know he’s dirty, but they keep him around because it’s important to stick together. Played by Pierre Gruno.
  • Dagu, another SWAT member who we don’t know much about. Basically only around because he’s lucky enough to have survived. Played by Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia. No idea what the nickname is all about.
  • Drug lab thugs, about 15 or so. They’re spread out all over the place given the huge nature of the lab, and probably a few are also coming in from other rooms so once again it makes sense that they’re attacking our heroes at irregular intervals. Most seem to be there to make drugs but several are probably guards, so their individual skill levels vary.
    • Armed with: Some have knives.

The Setup: After getting some help from the crime lord’s other lieutenant, Andi (who turns out to be Rama’s brother. Ze tweest!), Rama lays low for a while and eventually re-unites with the other two wandering survivors. They decide that since the exits are being watched by snipers, the only hope they have is to complete the mission as planned, so they head onward and upward. This will take them through the rather large drug lab (unspecified what kind of drugs, could be multiple types) not too far from Tama’s perch on the 15th floor.

While Wahyu and Dagu act as bait, Rama takes out the lone roving guard on the stairwell, tossing the gun-wielding thug over the edge. Here’s where the sountrack (or at least the US version, enhanced by Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese) kicks into high gear with a rhythmic, jaunty, techno-esque tune. We see a long pan over the many workers in the lab going about their business, until they’re suddenly interrupted by Rama bursting through the door and tackling another guard. Time go all Nancy Reagan on this biatch.

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The Fight: On many levels this is the most ambitious fight of the movie yet. It’s three allies with different fighting styles loosely cooperating against a numerically superior but disorganized opposition, in a very large space with lots of obstacles. Of course as you might have guessed by this point, Evans and crew pull it off masterfully.

There’s a wild, popping energy to this scene that sets it apart. The last fight was a vicious duel to the death and the one before that was a desperate struggle for survival, but this one’s just a smorgasboard of hyper-kinetic, high-speed violence. In this way it’s closer to the first fight than anything, only a lot more so because there’s more combatants, more space to play in and more energy at work. The fighters here run and jump and pull all sorts of crazy stunts. Evans goes back & forth between all three protagonists as they put down henchmen left & right, with varying degrees of difficulty.

Dagu proves surprisingly capable for a guy who’s basically just lucky cannon fodder. He fights a lot like Rama but seems to be faster and more wiry, getting in several good beatdowns in this sequence.

But strangely in this fight it’s Wahyu who comes off as the most memorable. Despite being a paunchy middle-aged man amongst a crew of young, ripped martial artists, Wahyu is still quite the badass. That’s in spite of his dearth of martial arts prowess, rather than because of it: while Dagu and Rama pull off dazzling acrobatics and surgical beatdowns, the crusty lieutenant is just a big simple beast of a man. He throws wild haymakers and topples down huge objects around him as diversions. At one point he even channels his inner bad guy wrestler when he uses a chair to sweep the legs out from under a charging foe, then brings it crashing down on him brutally when he’s on the ground. He’s a bull in a china shop and it’s delightful to watch.

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Rama, of course, is the fight’s MVP and rightfully gets most of the focus. Even though he’s still kicking ass in fine form, he absorbs a healthy amount of punishment from the tougher thugs, but he keeps coming back. At one point he’s able to seize a foe’s knife and starts his old slash & stab routine, but he loses it soon enough when he opts to throw it across the room to skewer a baddie who’d been choking Wahyu from behind.

The final showpiece of the sequence involves Rama and the last bad guy leaping onto opposite ends of a very long, thin table. Like, “I said, could you PASS the SALT?!”-long. They charge each other at full speed, and Rama gracefully leaps over what would have been a deadly slide kick.

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“Why aren’t we fighting on the ground?” “Shut up, this is awesome!”

They have an extended battle and the last guy does pretty well for himself, until Rama is able to deliver a stunning kick-punch-sweep combo that drops the thug so that he lands with his back slamming against the table’s edge. Ouch.

The only thing “wrong” with this fight is that in comparison with the last two it’s relatively inconsequential: there are no recognizable faces amongst the sea of interchangeable bad guys here, and none of them rise above moderately threatening. Even the final table duel, while neat-looking, doesn’t end with quite the level of “oomph” the movie has subtly trained us to expect from this sort of thing.

On the other hand, that’s kind of the scene’s strength. This sequence comes during a particularly harsh stretch, storywise: Jaka has died, the remaining heroes know they’re cut off & alone, and Andi’s treachery has just been discovered by his criminal colleagues. The heroes, and the audience, need something light, fast-paced, and fun. They need a good clean win, and boy is this ever that. From the moment the high-paced music kicks in you begin to feel like it’s Comeback Time, and know that the movie’s starting to come into the home stretch.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: An unfair fight.

Definitely not fair, they should have at least three more guys.

Definitely not fair, they should have at least three more guys.

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The Raid: Redemption (fight 3 of 5)

Constanze: “Is it not good?”

Salieri: “It is miraculous.”

Don't ALWAYS bet on the tall guy.

Unfortunately not the kind of miracle Jaka’s going to need.

3) Jaka vs Mad Dog

The Fighters:

  • Sergeant Jaka, the smart & capable leader of this SWAT team. While the corrupt Lieutenant Wahyu is ultimately in charge of this mission, Jaka is the team’s field commander. Played by Joe Taslim, a former Judo champion-turned-actor who you might recognize from being in Fast & Furious 6 earlier this year.
  • Mad Dog, one of the crime lord’s two right-hand men. Smart, sadistic, relentless and enthralled with the glory of physical combat, Mad Dog is one dangerous puppy. Played by Yayan Ruhian, a renowned silat instructor (he used to train the Indonesian equivalent of the Secret Service) turned actor. While Iko Uwais is undoubtedly the star of The Raid and does the lion’s share of physical work, Ruhian is the movie’s secret weapon.

The Setup: While Rama has been fighting his way through legions of cannon fodder and mini-bosses, his companions Jaka, Wahyu and another cop named Dagu have been evading and hiding as well. Finally holing up in an abandoned apartment, this second group of survivors try to figure their way out of this mess. Jaka is able to deduce that Wahyu is hiding something and confronts him. After some drama (including the revelation that this mission is not officially sanctioned and no one else knows they’re here), the group decides to sneak out, but they pick the absolute worst time because as soon as Jaka opens the door he gets a kick in the face from Mad Dog, who’s been dispatched with a couple followers to track down the survivors.

There’s a scuffle between the two sides that ends Jaka ordering his men to escape, with Mad Dog’s posse in pursuit. Meanwhile, the two leaders get caught in a weapons stand-off that is decidedly uneven.

Sean Connery had a few choice words about this sort of thing in The Untouchables.

Once they’re alone, Mad Dog gestures for Jaka to put down the knife, which he does with some caution. Then they both rise and, at the villain’s further direction, enter the room. Mad Dog closes the door behind them and relaxes. As Jaka stands a few feet away, wary, Mad Dog unloads and discards his gun, then removes his sweater. All the while he talks about how killing someone with a gun is too easy (“like ordering takeout”) and he prefers the thrill of the fight, of getting his hands dirty.

The audience has already been informed, via Jaka’s intel, that Mad Dog is definitely crazy, but we didn’t know how crazy. The way Ruhian delivers his lines so calmly, even breezily, indicates the presence of a truly dangerous psycho. There’s something about his simple confidence in himself that’s kind of terrifying.

The villain stretches out, struts toward his target, and immediately unloads.

The Fight: Just non-stop, pure, brutal violence. They’re punching, kicking, blocking, dodging, tossing, reversing. They’re down, they’re back up, they’re all over the room, they’re slamming each other into things. It’s fast and it’s insane. No amount of description could do it justice. It’s a hurricane.

It certainly rocks you like one.

Hard, percussive muic kicks in just as soon as the fight starts, and only briefly lets up at one point when Jaka is able to get atop his adversary and furiously tries to choke him to death. Then it kicks right back in as soon as Mad Dog pops loose.

The two combatants are dazzling, managing that amazing feat of playing out meticulous choreography while somehow making it all look natural; it’s simultaneously a work of technical perfection but it’s also just two warriors trying desperately to kill each other.

He’s basically performing a sideways Shoryuken.

And for all Jaka’s superlative skill, it becomes increasingly clear that he’s out of his league here. Mad Dog is too fast, too resilient, too much. Jaka can’t stop him, heck watching this you’d almost believe a superhero couldn’t stop him. Though the villain absorbs many powerful blows and is left a sweaty, tired mess by the end, Mad Dog’s victory is guaranteed when he delivers a particularly strong knee to his foe’s face.

Jaka is still moving afterward, but is notably slower and dazed. Here the whole pace of the fight slows down, because the villain knows the end is near. He even revels in it, as we can see in a close-up shot when he tilts his face to the ceiling in a moment of perversely serene ecstasy.

From here on Evans plays a few tricks that solidify the sense of dread and inevitability. The drums die down and are replaced on the score by an odd mechanical whine that steadily rises, so loud that it drowns out the sounds from the few remaining blows (instead they’re accompanied by drum booms on the soundtrack). Because what happens from here is no longer excitement & entertainment but drama: a good man is about to be murdered.

Mad Dog softens Jaka up with another running blow. Then he grabs his neck, and, still savoring the moment, caresses his enemy’s head, almost affectionately. Jaka squirms to get loose but a vicious punch to the face stuns him further.

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And with one brutal twist, boom! Neck snapped. Just like how Superman does it.

The word for this is perfection. It is utterly without flaw from a technical or dramatic standpoint. It avoids the sins that deflate so many otherwise great fight scenes (and, to be honest, even a few great ones). The two combatants don’t just “take turns winning”; they have a genuine, non-stop and complex push & pull where neither side gains advantage for more than a few seconds. Rarely is a fight this convincingly close, either– they’re both amazingly talented fighters but while one is clearly better, the other truly makes him work for it; it’s plausible that Jaka could have won. And the victor does not win on a technicality or a matter of luck. Mad Dog wins simply because he’s better… or perhaps just more crazy, savage and fearless.

While Taslim is outstanding, the real star of this fight is, of course, Yahyan Ruhian. He has a surprising range for a non-actor– he only ended up in front of the camera after joining Gareth Evans’ previous film, Merantau, as a choreographer, and ended up filling in an acting slot when the director had trouble filling a small but important antagonist role. In Merantau he was certainly a bad guy but more of a tragic one, his soulful eyes betraying a lot of regret. But here he’s a flat-out psychopath, the kind of guy you’d cross the street to avoid if you saw him walking down the sidewalk. On paper, the kind of bad guy who puts down his gun because he so openly relishes bare-hands killing is such a cliché, but Ruhian elevates it through the sheer intensity of his performance.

And one other thing? This whole battle, including the slower portion at the end as Mad Dog prepares to give the coup de grace, is well under two minutes. Yet it’s packed with so much incident it feels like much more. Is this how Olympic athletes feel during the 100-meter dash?

We are honored to witness this.

Grade: A+

Coming Attractions: Taking the rest of this week off for Christmas. But when we come back, our heroes say no to drugs.

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With extreme prejudice.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 2 of 5)

Eat your heart out, Jason Voorhees.

It looks like he’s reeling just from being yelled at, which actually makes this even better.

2) Machete Chaos

The Fighters:

  • Rama, once again. Played by Iko Uwais.
    • Armed with: Not a darn thing.
  • The Machete Gang, as the credits oh-so-accurately call them. They’re a band of five (soon to be four) particularly tough thugs who have been roving the building together for stragglers. If this movie were a video game (and it is SO a video game), these guys would be the miniboss squad. Their leader (“Machete Gang #1”) is particularly aggressive and deranged; he may well be hopped up on some amphetamine or another, given his demeanor and resilience. Played by Alfridus Godfred, Rully Santoso, Melkias Ronald Torobi, Johanes Tuname, and Sofyan Alop.
    • Armed with: Hint’s in the name.

The Setup: After successfully unloading Bowo in the home of the one decent man in the entire building (and just barely hiding in the walls from the Machete Gang while he was at it), Rama has resumed his mission alone. But it’s not long before he encounters the gang again in a hallway. One of them is significantly closer than the others, so when Rama flees, he’s the first to catch up. Our hero of course beats the crap out of him, though it takes significantly longer this time, and finishes him off by tossing him down the building’s main stairwell, where he lands on a concrete ledge a few floors down, back first. Ouch.

Rama runs up one more floor and gets chased for a while, but when he finds himself at a dead end, he knows he has no choice but to do this the hard way.

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The easy way does not exist in this film.

There’s a brief stare-down between the two factions, and then before you can say “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” everyone rushes in to get some killin’ done.

The Fight: Rama works harder here than ever before, being careful to stay inside the swing radius of his foes’ blades. It largely works, but he has a couple close calls that he barely dodges, including at one point when one of the gang (the one with impressive dreadlocks) almost stabs his face off after pinning him to the ground with a running leap onto his chest.

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And for being the only unarmed guy, Rama does kick a decent amount of ass here, scoring lots of blows that temporarily incapacitate an opponent or two at a time, only to leave him to go right back to the remaining ones. He also briefly lays hands on a machete himself and proves fairly adept with it, but loses it in an up-close suffle after only getting to deliver a painful-looking but superficial wound. There’s even a mildly funny bit where he tries to pick it up off the ground but his hand gets machete-slapped away by the gang’s leader.

At one point Rama gets caught between two thugs on either side of the narrow hallway (Evans switches to a cool overhead shot for this) but is able to turn the situation around by beating them both soundly. He kicks one bad guy hard enough to smash him through the door of an apartment, then grabs the other one by the neck and leaps them both backwards so that the thug’s neck lands on the protruding shards of the broken door, killing him instantly.

This happens. This is a thing that happens.

There’s enough of a lull in the action that Rama takes time to pause, seemingly shocked at his own brutality. Possibly more so because the thug he just killed looks all of 17 years old.

But the fight picks up again soon enough. Rama is quickly able to kill another of the gang by taking his machete, using it to slice him through the gut and side of his neck, and then bury it in his chest. After that, he’s unarmed again as he squares off in hand-to-hand with the dreadlocked guy, who proves surprisingly adept at martial arts. He hits Rama with some pretty fancy moves, knocking him over a couch and following up with several mean-looking blows.

But the hero rallies, and when Dreads tries to jump up so he can deliver a devastating knee to Rama’s face, Rama tackles him in mid-air and swings him into the corner wall like a sack of wet garbage. It seems to put him down for the count.

This frees Rama up to tussle alone with the leader, who proves alarmingly resilient and capable. There’s a real vicious push & pull between the two as each struggles to take the other out. The villain very nearly executes a mean suplex on Rama, who actually changes his own momentum in mid-air so he only flips forward to land on his feet (and then falls on his face). Then Rama almost gets his neck-snapped before he can break free, head-butt him and attempt a choke of his own. They trade some more blows, screaming at each other wildly the whole time. If the first fight was a complex ballet the whole way through, the second one quickly devolves into a desperate struggle for survival.

The thug is able to pick up his machete again and misses with a few wild swings. Rama gets in close, softens him up with a few blows, get around behind him and put him down with a hard punch to the back of the head. Visibly shaken, Rama checks the AO, wary of any lingering or new threats. When the gang leader stumbles shakily to his feet, our hero panics and tackles him with a wild surge of energy, sending them both plummeting out the window.

This is what you'd call a "hail Mary play," I believe.

This is what you’d call a “hail Mary play,” I believe.

They fall several stories, clip a ledge on the way down and stop on a metal balcony. Rama lands on top of his foe, so he’s relatively okay, but still pretty roughed up. Worse so when some of the bad guys stationed outside the building open fire on him. Most of the bullets bounce off the balcony’s bars, but at least one round makes its way into his flak jacket, and when he crawls inside he has to desperately remove the vest to get the heated bullet away, sacrificing yet another layer of protection. But at least he’s alive. Any fight you can walk away from….

Another piece of extended awesomeness here. As mentioned there’s a whole different vibe to this scene, as Rama is up against stronger odds right from the outset– not to mention that the first battle had to have taken a lot out of him. The bad guys here are not just more threatening but more distinctive visually, with their crazy-eyed leader having already established himself as being particularly ruthless and hateable.

One of the movie’s more subtle yet distinctive triumphs of choreography is also apparent here: reversals. In several clashes between hero & villain, one party will attempt a move that the other reverses, escapes or otherwise defeats. It’s not always something simple like a punch or kick, either, but a complicated throw or some such. And even though the move doesn’t work you can always tell what the first person is trying to do, which makes it even more impressive when you see the target cancel it out. Just one of the many little things that help make this movie so amazing.

And for all that The Raid is so wild & intense, there’s an interesting undercurrent of realism that grounds it, exemplified here. Rama’s physical condition degrades visibly as the fight goes on, and once it ends, between the exhaustion and the multi-story fall he’s quite out of it. His vision is blurred and he’s stumbling around like an Irishman at four a.m. the morning after St. Patrick’s Day. If not for the timely intervention of an unlikely ally he’d have been easy pickings.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: No time for sergeants.

This is even less friendly than it looks.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 1 of 5)

“Be a man and see it. See it and be a man.” Chapel 3929

“Is there a fund we can give to for the families of all these stunt men who clearly died while filming The Raid: Redemption?”Seanbaby

At the very least, you can see it so they didn't die in vain.

At the very least, you can see it so they didn’t die in vain

The Raid: Redemption (gratuitous & inaccurate subtitle added for US release, I will not be using it again in content of posts) aka Serbuan Maut in its native Indonesia, is an action-lover’s dream in all the right ways: it provides consistently entertaining and varied scenes of stylized but gritty violence, puncuated by dramatic sequences that are just enough to make you care while not dragging on so long as to waste your time (how many otherwise spectacular action films have been ruined by “dramatic” beats that were clumsy, pretentious, overlong or all of the above?). It’s confident without being cocky, writer/director Gareth Evans being a true genre auteur rather than a winking fanboy.

Longtime readers may remember that I cited this film as the main reason why it’s sometimes necessary to switch to the “retrospective” format and indeed I planned to do that here; however, upon re-watch I was surprised to learn that, despite remembering the movie being almost non-stop action after it finally revs up (minus a few necessary breathers), there are actually only five sequences amongst all that action that could be reasonably described as fight scenes. But every one a masterpiece.

In an age where cinema is in many ways growing stagnant, The Raid is something truly special, and that’s why I timed it to be the subject of this, the 100th post of the blog. Happy Birthday, Grading Fight Scenes.

1) Hallway Brawl

The Fighters:

  • Rama, the film’s noble hero. A young but extremely capable (and lucky) member of the local police force. Rama is, like the actor who plays him and also like many other characters in the movie, an expert at pencak silat. Being as that’s an umbrella term for all the varied martial arts in Indonesia, it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing that makes it unique, save for perhaps its flowing, constant motion. Played by Iko Uwais, who is destined for great things.
    • Armed with: a standard-issue police baton and combat knife. He had an assault rifle and hand gun, but has discarded both after running out of ammo. Also still wearing most of his riot gear: flak vest, elbow & knee pads, but no helmet.
  • Bad Guys, like 20 of them (it’s hard to keep count). Denizens of the apartment building where the titular raid occurs, they’re all foot soldiers loyal to the film’s villain. All ruthless thugs but most of them here don’t seem to have much more than rudimentary skill. Played by stunt men.
    • Armed with: Various small sticks, blades and even a machete.

The Setup: Although the plot does eventually produce a couple interesting twists, The Raid’s basic premise is refreshingly simple: 20 cops in full SWAT gear storm a building that’s run by a sadistic crime lord. From up in his perch where he has access to dozens of security cameras, the villain sics the building’s inhabitants (most of whom work for or are in some way beholden to him) on the police. Although the protagonists are largely competent and virtuous, they find themselves quickly overwhelmed, their numbers dwindled and the survivors separated.

After a fantastic action sequence that culminated in an exploding refrigerator (I love this movie), our main hero Rama is stuck with his wounded but living comrade Bowo (whose only character development prior to this was “annoying jerk”), searching for safe harbor while the other remaining crew hide elsewhere. Rama drags his non-friend through a hallway on the seventh floor, but the two are quickly discovered.

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The Fight: Fast, mean and complex.

Fortunately for Rama’s sake, the bad guys keep coming in one or two at a time. But for once this old action cliche is justified: the thugs here have mostly been conducting a spread-out, disorganized search, and all of them except for the first few are drawn by the noise, so they rush in at non-coordinated intervals.

Not that these small bursts of baddies give Rama much of a chance to rest, of course; he’s constantly moving and attacking nearly the whole time, a frenzy of focused violence. He wields his baton in one hand and knife in the other, using the two weapons sometimes separately but often in concert, such as when he pulls one guy in by hooking him with the baton’s handle and then stabbing him with the knife.

There’s all sorts of inventive nastiness on Rama’s part. Several times he uses the baton to “deconstruct” opponents, delivering a lightning-fast series of small blows to various points on the body, quickly & systematically overwhelming the victim. Others get slammed harshly into walls and doors. Rama stuns one thug with a club to the chest then reaches around to stab him in the back of the thigh. He stabs another in the upper thigh and then pulls the still-inserted blade nearly down to his knee. He stabs another right in the knee and then twists the knife. Throats get not just sliced but also clubbed. Over & over the knife is used for all manner of quick, punch-like stabbings, and the accompanying sound effect is suitably sickening.

Rama is one ruthless SOB, but not sadistic; he’s just doing what he has to. While many if not most of the wounds he delivers are fatal, often he’s satisfied just leaving a defeated foe injured enough to not get back up again. Indeed, during one of the fight’s few lulls, as Rama creeps his way warily to a T-section of the hallway, he leaves behind a handful of groaning cripples along with all the dead & dying. One of those injured seizes Bowo just as the latter crawls to keep up with Rama, and the visibly agitated cop repeatedly stabs the thug in the chest– it’s Bowo’s sole contribution to the action and one of the film’s few moments of humor.

When baddies rush in again and Rama has to take them on from both sides, things get a bit hairier. First he loses his baton in a close-up scruff, and not long after that he has to abandon his knife when he gets yanked away from behind just after he’s stabbed one poor sucker right in the shoulder. Fortunately he’s almost as deadly unarmed as he is armed, and, wouldn’t you know it, none of the remaining bad guys in this scene happen to run in with weapons either. Rama cleans up the remainders, and takes out the last one with an epically brutal finishing move that was rightfully included in most of the trailers:

“Knock knock.”

Yep, he grabs the man, slams his head into a hallway light fixture, and then slams his head FIVE MORE TIMES down the side of the wall before dropping him. It’s… it’s beautiful. Unfortunately, Rama does not take the time to recover either of his weapons before picking up Bowo again and moving on. That will prove to be a mistake.

This fight, however, is anything but. Though it’s definitely not the first bit of excitement in the movie it’s the first extended physical fight we’ve seen, and as such is as powerful a mission statement as an opening fight can be. Evans smartly turns the limited scope of the hallway into an effectively claustrophobic environment. The choreography switches seamlessly between multiple weapon types and pure hand-to-hand, and the constant stream of bad guys makes for an unpredictable threat. The filmmakers manage to find that sweet spot of being complicated without seeming complicated– there’s never really a moment where you stop and say “wait, why didn’t he just do that more simply?” or suspect the characters are showing off, it all feels very organic.

Much of the credit of course goes to all the meticulous stunt work behind the scenes, but a large amount is due to Uwais as well, who sells the entire thing as natural and unforced. Physically impressive and with a highly sympathetic face, the audience is always rooting and fearful for him, because he’s not some Superman. Although he comes out here miles better than he does in any upcoming battle, Rama does absorb a couple blows here, and has a few of his own attacks stymied one way or the other. He’s awesome, but not invincible.

And you know what the crazy part is? This is the least impressive fight in this movie.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: Machete kills.

Rama don’t text.

Spider-Man 2 (fight 2 of 2)

Choo choo.

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He damn near catches the last train for the coast.

2) Spider-Man vs Doctor Octopus

The Fighters:

  • Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. No real changes since last time, except Spidey’s powers are working consistently again.

The Setup: Knowing that the last component for his experiment is a sample of the ultra rare isotope tritium, Octavius goes to threaten Harry Osborn (who has taken over his father’s company) for his remaining tritium stash. Harry agrees to hand the MacGuffin over to Octavius if Octavius brings Spider-Man to Harry, alive; this is a pretty serious improvement over Otto’s initial offer of “give me the tritium or I’ll kill you”. Harry further informs the villain that the best way to find Spider-Man (other than robbing a bank, hanging around a fire, etc) is via Peter Parker, the guy who “takes his pictures” for the paper.

The mad doctor decides to get Peter’s attention via the unusual method of throwing a car at the back of his head (something he only dodged thanks to his spider sense, which Otto didn’t know he had), and then taking a nearby Mary Jane hostage, telling Peter to have his “buddy” Spider-Man meet him up for a brawl or else he’ll kill her. So: Octavius kidnaps Mary Jane so that will motivate Peter Parker to convince Spider-Man to come fight Octavius so Octavius can beat up & deliver Spider-Man to Harry so that Harry will give Octavius tritium which will let Octavius try his experiment again. Perfectly straightforward.

[Pretty funny how Peter rejected his chance at happiness with Mary Jane at the end of the last movie in order to keep from making her a target for his enemies, yet lookee here, that’s exactly what happens anyway.]

The Fight: Spider-Man arrives (his powers having been fully restored by the danger to MJ), at what’s apparently their pre-arranged meeting place: the top of a high clock tower.

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(BTW, I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but if any proud New Yawkers spot any errors in my description of their fine city’s geography or notice that I fail to point out any notable landmarks, feel free to point this out. [Obviously I have to explicitly invite this, since native NYC residents are so known for their shy, reserved nature and don’t like to make a big deal of their town’s features.])

The two waste little time before getting right down to bidness, doing their up-close tussling act from before. Spidey soon gets knocked from their perch, but is unfazed: he launches a couple web “bullets” (hey, those are new) on the way down which stun his foe, then swings back up and lassoes a chunk of broken clock arm at Octavius with his free hand. That’s multi-tasking.

Octavius tries using that same piece of scenery as a projectile himself, but Spider-Man is still able to seize him with a pair of webs and pulls them both down. They land not on the ground but on the top of an elevated subway train– apparently one that doesn’t make a lot of stops, because it never stops moving for this whole fight. Also apparently New York doesn’t have elevated trains anymore, but oh well.

The two don’t care, and keep up their fighting. Doc Ock blocks some webbing with his tentacles, but the hero just improvises and instead uses those webs to pull himself in close for a few kicks to the face.

C'mon, man, don't let him walk all over you.

C’mon, man, don’t let him walk all over you.

They both take a break to duck under a low overpass (apparently Otto has Octo-sense, because his back was turned at the time). Octavius is able to seize Spider-Man and fling him high in the air against an above-ground walkway, but Spidey manages to contort himself juuuuust enough to fit through the stone mesh “walls” and lands back on the train to deliver another punch.

The blow knocks them both to the side of the train, where they both just decide “f–k it, we’ll fight here now.” There’s lots of cool stuff as they scuffle from here on, as Spider-Man gets knocked inside of the train twice, at one point grabbing a pole and spinning around it sideways (he was bitten by a radioactive stripper!) to launch himself back out another window. At another point our hero has to flatten himself up tightly against the side of the car as another train comes barrelling down the opposite track. All the while several dozen passengers stand by, dumbfounded.

Eventually Otto is able to sneak around and get the drop on Spidey, knocking him to the ground outside, but with some quick use of his webbing the hero is able to snag onto the train and also dodges all the vehicular traffic he’s now being dragged around in. It’s almost certainly a quick, cute reference to the legendary train chase in the Friedkin classic The French Connection.

As long as Peter doesn't use as many racial slurs as Gene Hackman.

As long as Peter doesn’t use as many racial slurs as Gene Hackman.

As Spider-Man swings to catch up, Octavius tries to mess with him by grabbing civilians out of the train and tossing them the hero’s way. First one, then two at a time. This only barely slows the hero down, though, as he’s able to use his webs to pluck them out of the air and then create netting to toss them safely into. It’s… unclear what Otto’s goal with this is. Typically, villains use civilians in such a manner so they can escape, but Dr. Octopus doesn’t want to escape here, he wants to beat his adversary to a pulp. He expresses frustration when this tactic doesn’t work but what was his idea of it “working”? Surely he didn’t want to kill those people just for fun. Similarly, Spider-Man should not be so desperate to keep up with the train, because he knows for a fact that Octavius wants him. If he just pulled off to the side he would probably figure that Doc Ock would probably also take a time-out and they could continue their fight in a less insane location.

Ah, well. This not being enough, Otto decides to destroy the train’s brake mechanism, sending it plummeting down to the terminal point. Which of course leads into that superb non-fight sequence where an unmasked Peter summons up all his spider strength in a desperate bid to stop the train; it’d be a lot more awesome if it didn’t lead into that incredibly mawkish denouement where the hero gets splayed out as a hamfistedly-obvious Christ figure. Blergh.

When Spider-Man finally comes to, he’s barely strong enough to stand, let alone adequately defend himself against the returning Dr. Octopus, so at least that tactic made sense. Spidey gets conked out, tied up and delivered to Son of Goblin. That’s rough.

This fight, though, isn’t. For all its messiness it truly is an epic fight– perhaps the most complex and ambitious super-brawl seen in film up to that point. It covers an absurd amount of real estate (even if much of that is arguably a cheat because they’re standing on a train), makes a lot of use of its environments and the diverse opportunities each combatant’s abilities provide. A major sticking point is even how the hero willingly hobbles himself in order to minimize collateral damage to innocent civilians. (Zack Snyder was unavailable for comment.)

There’s a sense of excitement here that a simple blow-by-blow can’t really convey, a real “gee whiz, look at that and now look at THAT!” giddiness to it. It’s not just an incredible technical achievement (uncanny valley warts & all) but a labor of love. On the surface it may be irritating that the two’s definitive encounter (there’s actually not really any fighting during the film’s real climax) doesn’t have a definitive defeat, but then, it doesn’t need one: Otto Octavius is the villain but he’s not really a bad guy, just a good guy driven to do some awful things by circumstances not wholly within his control. He needs sympathy and reformation, not a beatdown. Thus the fight ends with an act of raw, self-sacrificing heroism rather than violence. Good show.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: A brief interlude, then something a bit more… redeeming.

Spider-Man 2 (fight 1 of 2)

Spidey makes bank.

Okay, sorry about that one.

There’s a “bailout” joke to be made somewhere in this post. I can’t promise I’ll find it.

Everyone’s wild about Spider-Man 2; personally I always found it somewhat overrated. It raises way too many storytelling red flags: the whole clunky plotline about how Peter keeps losing his powers because he subconsciously doesn’t want them (even in the middle of a life-or-death situation? I would have to think his survival instinct would override his girlfriend angst), the half-assed/poorly-resolved love triangle with Mary Jane & her poor fiancee, and, most grating of all, the film’s overwhelming negativity. It’s true that great swathes of the comic book source material could be accurately reduced to “life craps on Peter Parker” but being subjected to so much of it at once over the course of a two-hour+ movie is tiresome. I mean, there’s seriously a scene in this movie where an already-bummed Peter is at a party and gets literally slapped around by his drunken best friend, and then right after that Peter has to watch a handsome astronaut gleefully announce his engagement to the love of Peter’s life. It’s so transparently abusive it crosses the line into comical; I half-expected Peter to then get a phone call from Aunt May letting him know she had cancer. In her butt.

It also comparably skimps on the fight scenes. There’s still no shortage of superhero action– Spidey swinging around New York, foiling criminals and mad science experiments alike– but actual fights are very few. Fortunately, what do we get is quite impressive indeed.

1) Spider-Man vs Doctor Octopus, round one

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, who you well know. Settled even more into his alter ego now, which is wreaking havoc on his real life. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Otto Octavius aka “Doctor Octopus,” a name given to him by the Daily Bugle after a science experiment gone wrong left him with eight total limbs. In contrast to the comics, this Otto’s “personality is different, which is to say, it actually exists,” in the words of one of my favorite bloggers. Otto is a kindly but driven scientist who loses his beloved wife in the same grisly accident that makes him a monster. Played by the great Alfred Molina, who is less crazy playing an actual supervillain than he was in Boogie Nights.
    • Armed with: Those extra four limbs are impressive steel appendages from a harness on Otto’s back that are easily over four feet long, each about as flexible as a garden hose and equipped with deadly gripper claws, cameras, and a few other tricks. They have a limited A.I. and so can move semi-independently of Otto, and in return can influence him; the explosion that fused the harness to his back also destroyed the “inhibitor chip” that kept them from getting into his head. Originally the device was created so he could perform dangerous experiments from a remote distance, but it’s actually quite the impressive scientific achievement itself. Maybe he should have patented that instead.

The Setup: Peter and his sweet Aunt May are at a large bank, applying for a loan; she’s fallen on financial hard times because, again, Spider-Man 2 is nothing if not a relenting onslaught of depression. The smarmy loan officer who denies (of course) their request is none other than TV’s Joel McHale.

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Classic Winger

Meanwhile, by incredible coincidence, Dr. Octopus is also present. Due to a combination of grief-induced madness and the influence of his tentacles’ wacky A.I., poor Otto has become convinced that his one purpose left in life is to succeed at the cold-fusion experiment that screwed everything up in the first place. Naturally, he’s taken up bank robbery (a grand supervillain tradition) in order to finance it. I’d love to see the lab equipment distributors who’d accept literals bags ‘o cash payment from a robo-tentacled lunatic, but okay. Maybe he “knows a guy.”

Dressed in fedora and trench coat like a dime-store version of The Shadow, Dock Ock just walks right in and straight-up rips off the vault door like a baller.

Classic Otto.

Classic Otto.

After narrowly avoiding the discarded door, Peter ditches May and changes into his costume while Octavius fights off some guards. The hero re-enters the scene quickly and tries to sneak up on Otto from behind, but one of the tentacles can still “see” even when the villain’s back is turned.

The Fight: Dr. Octopous whips around and uses his tentacles (in fact, at this point let’s just assume that most major fight functions Otto does are performed by his metal limbs rather than his organic ones unless otherwise stated, okay?) to fling some of his heavy loot bags at Spider-Man. The hero dodges them easily, even snagging one with a web and flinging it back in Otto’s face with a cheery “here’s your change!” Not quite on the level of comic Spidey’s legendary wit, but cute.

Octavius is briefly fazed, but he soon returns to flinging bags again. Spider-Man tries to dodge and deflect, but that stupid power-failing thing happens again, so he ends up eating a sack of cash and taking a dive. Otto grabs seizes the hero in a pretty dire-looking bind.

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It’s the kind of thing you might think would be funny to describe as “hot tentacle action,” if you were me nine years ago

The two have a fun exchange (“You’re starting to get on my nerves.” “I have a knack for that.”) but before our spider gets his head squished, he uses his free-ish hands to web two large desks on either side of him and pull them in. This makes Otto drop him while he defends himself against one piece of flying furniture but still gets creamed by the other and knocked through the window onto the street.

The police are waiting outside, so Dr. Octopus prudently takes a hostage… wouldn’t you know it, it’s Aunt May! He climbs up a nearby building while his signature music– a delightful monster movie-esque motif– kicks in. Spider-Man lands up higher on the wall and demands that Octavius turn her over. He seems willing to do so, but of course IT’S A TRAP! and the villain drops her. Peter is able to dive down and catch her then web them both up high, which leaves him vulnerable to attack.

After Otto gets in a few licks the two start going at it in earnest, largely trading blows up close as they fall down the side of the building.

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The CGI is not always convincing and the action is a little confusing, but it’s intense and fun nonetheless. Octavius is finally able to seize his foe and fling him all the way across the street, and re-positions himself near May, who’s only just found her footing. As he taunts Spider-Man to come back over & play, he prepares a steel spike behind his back, which May sees.

An unsuspecting Spidey across the street does that trick from the first movie where he uses two webs to pull back and slingshot himself at high velocity. He flies in like a bullet, and before Doc Ock can spear him, the hero gets some unlikely assistance.

EPIC

Betty White-style

The distraction allows Peter to dodge the spike, grab his aunt as she falls, and take her to safety as Otto scurries off. May is pleased to be proven wrong about “that awful Spider-Man” but still implies she deserves credit for the outcome of the fight. Oh, you wacky old people.

This is some solid superhero fun. It’s not quite an epic clash but the fight does score points for moving briskly from inside the bank to the street then to fairly up high in the air. The expected punches and tentacle-swipes are augmented with blows in the form of desks and money bags (and one mean umbrella), making for a more dynamic encounter.

The octopus elephant in the room here is how hard it is for our hero to take Dr. Octopus down. Unlike the Green Goblin, Octavius’ overall physiology was left largely unchanged by the incident that made him a supervillain; except for that tentacle-harness and some bad brain wiring, he’s completely human… and a paunchy, middle-aged scientist at that. Once Peter gets in close, Otto should be even easier to take down than Flash Thompson; one punch ought to be enough to knock his block off (and in the comics, it typically was), yet movie-Ock absorbs a numerous spider blows, not to mention getting bowled over by a massive desk and so forth.

Does it matter? Your mileage may vary. Personally, I’d say Raimi and co. had enough of a challenge constructing dynamic & quasi-believable superhero fights as it was without having to worry about the additional restriction of not letting the hero lay a finger on the villain until the very end. Think of this suspension of disbelief as similar to the one that must be engaged whenever the film switches over to obvious (but still necessary) CGI.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: Rumble in the jungle.

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Uh, the urban jungle.