If you type the phrases “The Raid: Redemption,” “review,” and “video game” into Google — which is apparently something I just do for fun — you get back 265,000 results. Now that’s obviously an unrealistic number; even in the age of social media and everyone’s-a-critic, there aren’t even 1,000 reviews of “The Raid: Redemption” much less 265,000. So while the number isn’t in the six figures, it’s definitely more than a couple. People who like the movie say it as a compliment, people who dislike the movie use it as a knock, but pretty much everyone agrees: “The Raid: Redemption” is like a video game. Here’s a (very small) sample:
“The action’s progress from level to level, and the regular appearance of new menaces, suggest a video game.”
“The film is basically one long live-action video game, where a SWAT Team mounting a desperate assault against a heavily fortified Jakarta high rise building, owned and operated by the cruel drug lord, Tama. Think of [the film’s main villain] as the game’s end boss, with each floor another stage of the game which must be conquered through any means necessary.”
“The movie, painted in shades of concrete gray and mysterious black, feels like a hyper-realistic video game. working up levels to reach the crime boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy), it is like a hyper-realistic video game.”
Jake Coyle, Huffington Post:
“Small amounts of backstory bleed out of the action, but there’s little propelling things beside the simple kinetic kick of the film’s video game-like plot, the next guy coming around the corner.”
“‘The Raid: Redemption’ is the perfect video game movie. A group of elite cops enter a murderous environment as each level of the apartment building has its own feel, look, choice of weapons and end boss.”
Well then. All of these critics are basically right — yes, the structure of the film, based on its main location, a grungy high-rise building with grunts at the bottom and the big boss at the top, resembles a video game. And certainly the emphasis on action, movement, and violence over plot, dialogue, and characters resembles a video game as well. But I guess I’d like someone to really investigate what it means for a movie to be like a video game — and also to consider the ways in which “The Raid” isn’t like a video game, of which I can think of at least a few.
What immediately comes to my mind in this discussion, having seen the film at a press screening earlier this week, is the emphasis in “The Raid” on the messy nature of dead bodies. In video games, no attention is paid to the dead: they fall to the floor and blink away into nothingness or respawn on the other side of the world. In this movie, dead bodies linger. They pile up and need to be disposed of.
Granted the big boss’ army of henchmen does seem endless. But unlike a video game, when heroic cop Rama (Iko Uwais) kills someone, their corpses don’t just vanish. Director Gareth Huw Evans pauses the action several times to dwell over the remains of the men who’ve died in this crazy battle. In one sequence, Rama has to fight his way through a hallway full of baddies to get to an apartment where he can get an injured member of his team some medical attention. When Rama leaves his friend in the apartment and walks back out into the hallway several scenes later, all of the dead and injured guys are still lying around. They haven’t gone anywhere. They’re cannon fodder, but they’re dead cannon fodder now and they’re not coming back.
It might also be worth mentioning that the video game like structure of “The Raid” existed in movies, and specifically martial arts movies, long before it existed in video games. The game “The Raid” most closely resembles in my mind is an old arcade sidescroller entitled “Kung-Fu Master,” in which a lone martial artist systematically works his way up a building through tougher and tougher enemies in order to rescue his girlfriend. But “Kung-Fu Master” didn’t invent that structure so much as it copied it from kung-fu movies like “Game of Death,” where Bruce Lee climbed a similar tower filled with bad guys who’ve kidnapped his fiancé.
Is “The Raid: Redemption” like a video game? Sure. But it’s not an exact 1:1 ratio — or 100% complete in this case.