God that’s a long title. Anyway welcome to the 2nd edition of East vs West. Well I didn’t actually have a 1st East vs West but I think my Hunger Games vs Battle Royale comparison can count. We’re not here to discuss semantics though. No we have much more important issues to discuss like sequels to some of my favorite movies of the past decade. On one side we have Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The sequel to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Known as The Raid: Berandal in Indonesia this is a sequel to the cult classic from 2011. While different in quite a few ways both are similar in two important ways. First and foremost they greatly expand the world they live in. Going outside of World War II and decrepit drug dens really expanded the scope of their respective universes. More importantly both movies not only match but surpass their predecessor. Whether we are talking story or villain or even henchmen both movies upped the ante. Naturally I got to wondering which was better and that’s what we’ll be looking at today. Now I will warn that there are spoilers ahead but considering Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the biggest film of the year so far (suck it Ride Along) I assume you’ve seen it already. Regardless consider this your Warning of Spoilers.
On the outset Captain America and Rama look like two very different characters. Captain America is a worldwide terrorist buster while Rama is a small time cop in Indonesia. One has dealt with a full scale alien invasion while the other is still a rookie with terribly bad luck. Still both of these men have one major thing in common, they are looking for the truth and revenge. Captain America is looking for who was involved with the assassination of Nick Fury and the identity of The Winter Soldier. Rama is looking for who murdered his brother. Both characters are also insanely badass. Over and over Captain America proves why he is the leader of The Avengers with his fighting ability and intelligence (despite never seeing Star Wars). Going undercover Rama quickly becomes the coolest cop since Jackie Chan. Where Cap has the edge is character development. We know he’ll always do the heroic thing but we see him go slowly learn to trust Nick Fury again. Rama, despite how awesome he is, isn’t really anything besides the awesome super cop that he always is.
Also pre-super soldier serum Captain America looks much less ridiculous. That alone gives him the win.
Winner- Captain America
But what’s a good hero without a good villain? Actually without them our two heroes would still kick quite a bit of ass actually. But it wouldn’t be as fun. In The Raid 2 we have heir to the underworld throne Uco and Bejo. The son of Bangun he is a brash, overly confident enforcer with bigger aspirations and the connections to achieve his goals. At his side Bejo, a relatively young and self-made gangster new in Indonesia. By taking over the Bangun’s crime family they plan to take over the underworld.
In Captain America we have… Alexander Pierce. Yes while the Winter Soldier is in the actual title of the movie I don’t see him as the main villain. We’ll get to him later. No the brains of this operation belong to Alexander Pierce. A higher-up in SHIELD he is actually working for an evil organization. An organization that are Marvel’s “Nazis but totally not Nazis, we promise Disney” stand-ins. Normally I would give this to Uco and Bejo. They are major douchebags and do some despicable stuff, particularly Uco. But that’s the thing, they’re douchebags. Alexander Pierce, with his manipulation of the people and the government, is just plain evil. He’s a Naz….errrrrr HYDRA for heaven’s sake. That and considering his aspirations of world domination put him above even the most brutal of gangsters.
Winner- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Villains can’t handle all the work though. No there are little things like police and heroes to deal with. That’s where a good henchman comes in and both movies have some great henchmen. As mentioned that’s how I view The Winter Soldier. A superpowered soldier like Cap he is nothing short of a badass. Skilled in hand to hand and armed combat we have yet to see someone take Captain America to the brink like Winter Soldier did. While this would be more than enough Pierce also has Brock Rumlow by his side. While a good fighter and some fun fight scenes he is definitely a more traditional henchman. Knowing the comics it definitely looked more like build to the next movie. The last one I want to point out isn’t technically working for Pierce but whatever it’s Batroc the Leaper. Played by former UFC Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre I was surprised how much I enjoyed his brief bit. Taking away my enjoyment of MMA I appreciated that they didn’t do the gimmick where he uses obvious MMA moves like a rear naked choke or whatever. While not the best fight scenes there were some good hand to hand fights between him and Captain America. While not much more than cannon fodder his use of savate was a nice change of pace from the typical US action fighting style.
To me this is one area where The Raid 2 really shines. Assassins working for Bejo they each have their own gimmick and are incredibly badass. Most memorable are the brother and sister duo of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man. Admittedly not the most creative names their weapon of choice certainly helps them stand out. With the help of sound design every hit they pull off his absolutely brutal. The clang of aluminum on body from Baseball Bat Man made me cringe every time. Masterfully wielding the tools she would beat and rip anyone that got in her way. The leader of the crew was a man simply credited as The Assassin. While he would use two karambits I was most impressed by his martial arts skills. Throughout the movie he was shown as equal and sometimes even better than Rama. Their fight scene in the kitchen is one of the best fight scenes in years. Heck the last 20 minutes is one awesome fight scene between Rama and these three. Each one more brutal than the last. If I had any complaint it would be that they really did lack substance in comparison to the ones in Winter Soldier. Not much information is given and I really would have loved to learn more about them. Still I may just be a style or substance type but these had way more of an impact and were way cooler than what we got in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Winner- The Raid 2
Winter Soldier takes place two years after The Avengers with Captain America now working for SHIELD. Adjusting to the modern world he can’t get past SHIELD’s shadowy tactics and need for secrecy. Things are even more complicated when Nick Fury is assassinated by The Winter Soldier. Directed by the Russo Brothers (Community, Arrested Development) the comedy veterans craft a surprisingly good action flick. While there is a lot of CGI the use of practical effects is a refreshing change from other superhero movies (see Amazing Spider-man series). Another refreshing change comes with the movies influences. While it does cover the “Hero questions his status” trope every 2nd superhero movie covers it has much more in common with a spy/political thriller than an Iron Man 2. By basing its plot around things like espionage and spy technology definitely helps set it apart from its comic based brethren.
The Raid 2 takes its influences from a different yet similar genre. As opposed to the first movie which took cues from martial arts movies this has more of crime movie (particularly Hong Kong crime) influence. Taking place hours after the first movie Rama is contacted about infiltrating an Indonesian crime family. He rejects the offer but changes his mind when Bejo has his brother executed. Infiltrating Bangun’s crime syndicate he slowly gets sucked into their world. While I dug this story I have to give the edge to Winter Soldier. I wish I could go into a big spiel about the complexities of the story or how it changed the face of action films as we know it. But honestly it just comes down to scale and how far off the well-beaten track the movies go on. The Raid 2 does what it does well but not dissimilar to movies I haven’t seen it before (Infernal Affairs and its US adaption The Departed come to mind). Captain America just has more meat on its bones which makes it the winner.
Winner- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is it, the big one, the reason we are all here. Which movie had the better action scenes? While it may seem fairly obvious at first Captain America is some surprisingly stiff competition. Despite being a super soldier most of his fights are generally reality based. Less techno suits and super strength and more hand to hand and armed combat. Aside from the bigger set pieces I think the fighting was fairly grounded. As mentioned the fight with Batroc at the beginning is a fun opening fight. As the movie progresses so do the action scenes with the action getting bigger and the explosions getting explosionier (now officially a word). It has the perfect pace for the type of action it was setting up. Unfortunately for Captain America the same can be said for The Raid 2.
I love The Raid but I get the complaint when it comes to the action scenes came too fast and were a bit of overkill. I disagree but I can see why someone would feel like this. Nearly an hour longer than its predecessor The Raid 2 takes its time and paces the bone crushing fighting perfectly. Each fight escalating bigger and bigger until the epic encounter between Rama and The Assassin. Like its predecessor this is where the movie really shines. Co-star Yayan Ruhian provides some of the best fight choreography since, well, The Raid: Redemption. Add amazing choreography with the fact that Gareth Evans (director) isn’t held to the same limitations as Captain America and you have not only the best actions between the two but possibly the best action scenes of the year.
Winner- The Raid 2
With the big upset, well to me anyway, Captain America: The Winter Soldier wins the action movie war. While admittedly a bit of a style over substance guy (see my love of Sucker Punch) there’s no denying that Cap just had more going for it. That isn’t to say The Raid 2 is bad by any means. It is definitely an improvement over the first movie in pretty much every way. Just so happens that it can’t win this particular battle. I have no doubt in my mind that as the one guy that still buys physical media that both movies will stand proudly on my shelf.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier- A
The Raid 2- An extremely strong B+