Russian Raid (2020)

In 2011, Indonesia blessed us with one of the greatest action films of this millennium, The Raid, a masterclass in how to do close-quarters combat in a tight space under dire circumstances. For the uninitiated, it introduced new action stars and brought Pencak Silat to the forefront of martial arts cinema. It also did it on a small budget of just over a million US dollars. Since it proved a success, we ended up with a sequel in 2014, The Raid 2: Berandal, and the stars have popped up in places ranging from the Star Wars franchise to Mortal Kombat and John Wick films. There is even speculation that the movie was effectively remade for a comic book audience with the 2012 release of Dredd, though the production timing is a bit too close for that to be true.

Still, with such an impact, we all knew we’d see inspiration, copycats, and full on rip-offs pop up inevitably. And of all countries, Russia was happy to provide! This is Russian Raid, a movie about hoodlums in tracksuits taking over a factory run by the Bratva, because of course it is. Look, it’s Russia: everyone wears Adidas, the Bratva own everything, and the happy ending is not happy; it just scowls at you because almost everyone is dead, the survivors have all been shot, and the winter is long and hard. Thank you for being consistent in raining on everyone’s parade, Russia.

Nikita is a former Spetsnaz operative and sniper who has since gone freelance as a mercenary. While he has spent much of his life running from his past, he finally comes face to face with it in the worst possible way, realizing that the man he hates has unknowingly hired him. With this in mind, he botches the job and ends up getting folks killed. With little to do, he accepts another job from a competitor to take over a factory through force and coerced contractual agreements. Instead of the former military personnel Nikita has asked for, his employer has chosen to hire a bunch of street gangsters who dress and act like raging soccer hooligans after a match where Millwall F.C. beats Arsenal. But they can fight, and they fight hard, so while they don’t exactly listen to Nikita, they successfully beat the crap out of everyone in their way. Unfortunately, they only take out the Bratva faces of the factory; the real owner is Nikita’s hated adversary, and when he shows up, it goes full gunplay with lots of grenade action and some awesome knifework.

Naming the film Russian Raid may seem like a bold attempt at ripping off Gareth Evans’ action masterpiece and, well, yeah, it is. There are some significant similarities: the action takes place in largely one location, family drama ties the hero into the criminals running the facility and is the reason he’s there, and it’s a showpiece for hand to hand along with violent shootouts. While The Raid started with its gunfire and moved to its martial arts, Russian Raid chooses to do the opposite, going from gunless gangsters beating down security guards to mob bosses with battleaxes to eventually heavily armed mercenary squads trying to clear the building of a lone special forces soldier. Even the name of the film is blatantly tipping you off as to what you’re getting.

Is Russian Raid as good as The Raid? Oh no, not at all. While neither have particularly meaty stories, Russian Raid goes too hard on trying to explain a lot of back story for what was paper thin in both films. The action is well done, but there is a lack of suspense; during the martial arts combat sequences, there is never a feeling of desperation that the street toughs are actually fighting to survive the way Iko Uwais is in The Raid. That desperation comes back in the gunplay, but our lead is so well trained, it’s like watching John Wick move through a horde of cannon fodder; we know he can do this, just as we know Nikita is going to mow down whatever mercs are dumb enough to wander into his path.

Is the film worth watching? Yeah, it is, both if you enjoy fisticuffs and vicious shootouts in your action movies. As weird as it may seem, there are some people that only enjoy one or the other, but this movie gives you both, and while it never reaches the heights of greatness, it does put on an entertaining show. There is also some showcasing of Russian combat styles that pull from dance, and watching Nikita move is fascinating in the same way that watching someone battle using capoeira is. He flows and he holds his arms out, and you realize this dude can kick your whole team’s ass regardless of whether he’s got a sick beat.

Nikita is played by Ivan Kotik, and while you maybe haven’t heard his name, he’s been working a decade in action roles for US, Chinese, and Russian productions. Kotik has worked with the likes of Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Stephen Chow. He does stunt work, he can act, and he’s got a jawline that reminds me of Michael Sopkiw and guarantees him a future in this industry. I’m hoping to see more of him in the coming years, because if Russian Raid is any indication, he’s gonna be able to kick ass on the silver screen for years to come.

Also, if you think I’ve been hard on this film, I’m not trying to be. I respect it, especially because this appears to be the feature film debut for director Denis Kryuchkov, who also wrote and produced alongside Olga Loyanich, also in a feature film debut. The two of them have worked together, and I’m hoping this proves to be a successful pairing of interesting Russian cinema creators for decades to come. Gareth Evans didn’t start with The Raid; he already had two films under his belt, including the martial arts film Merantau with much of the same talent he would later work with on both Raid films. To come out of the gate swinging like Kryuchkov and Loyanich did is a testament to what they’ll be able to do in the future.

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