As technically masterful and bombastically jaw-dropping as The Raid: Redemption was, Welsh-born filmmaker turned Indonesian son Gareth Evans’ 2012 bone-breaking breakout hit was admittedly more video game than feature film. It may very well be argued (oftentimes by me, in fact) that the film was the best pure action movie of the 2000’s at the time of its release, but while an unflinching and unrelenting Danse Macabre of martial arts mayhem, its threadbare plot consisted of more video game levels than actual narrative.
That is not a problem faced by Evans’ ambitiously scoped sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal (which translates to “Thug” in English), as this time the writer/director spins out a proper crime saga, which sees Silat supercop Rama (star Iko Uwais, who is also the violent genius behind both film’s epic fight choreography), the only police officer to bloodily limp out of the tower of death from the first film, being sent to infiltrate a local crime family by befriending Uco (Arifin Putra), the ambitious son of the Jakartan gangland boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Complicating matters are a rival Japanese crime family engaged in a tentative truce with Bangun, an upstart criminal empire led by a Napoleonic hoodlum with a personal connection to Rama, and a self-serving police commissioner so crooked he must have a spine like a lightning bolt.
What begins with a short undercover stint in jail for Rama, spins out into a years long tale filled with shocking betrayals, serpentine family politics, wrathful personal vendettas and lots and lots of people being beaten into their constituent crimson atoms with the most graphically violent, jaw-dropping and -crushing martial arts display seen since… well, The Raid: Redemption. While Uwais’ learned limbs are responsible for most of this physical dismantling, he’s now also joined by a cast of characters as colourful as they are deadly: The family loving hobo-enforcer Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian), the brother-sister duo of “Baseball Bat Man” (Very Tri Yulisman) and “Hammer Girl” (Julie Estelle) – no guesses as to their weapons of choice – and the stoic but badass “Assassin” (Cecep Arif Rahman), who offers Rama his toughest and goriest challenge thus far.
Evans proves his action movie wunderkind credentials by staging a series of escalating set pieces, from a physically sapping mud drenched prison yard slop-fight to a three-way in-vehicle brawl during a high-speed car chase to a sadistically bloody hand-to-knife standoff in a kitchen that will undoubtedly go do down as one of the greatest examples of savage cinematic violence ever captured on film. With each subsequent sequence seemingly topping the last, you shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself punctuating the action with several awed utterances of “Holy shit!”
But Evans doesn’t just pile on these sequences one after the other with the machine-gun staccato maliciousness he employed in the first film though, but instead adds some well-needed gaps in between the violence to allow the plot and characters room to breathe. This more forgiving approach leads to a 150-minute running time that is quite the step up from the first film’s spartan 101-minute stretch, but it works here, as Evans, who also pulls third duty also as the film’s editor, still keeps the fat trimmed, making sure that every shot doesn’t just look good but also serves a purpose in his sprawling narrative.
And by the gods, are there lots of good looking shots here, as cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono go for an almost artistic approach, framing several shots with eye-catching wide angles and stark lighting, putting cameras in the unlikeliest of places/angles so as to better capture events. That approach carries through to the film’s hyperspeed fisticuffs, which Evans’ shoots with the steady-handed philosophy of clearly and unflinchingly showing off the almost inhuman physical skill of his cast and crew, instead of hiding it behind seizure-like cuts (sometimes to the gruesome detriment of your stomach’s fragile constitution as bodies are mangled and rent in plain view), and combining that with the film’s simple but highly effective score to just keep building intensity to almost unbearable levels.
This could unfortunately also be one of the film’s drawbacks, as while genre junkies will be reveling in the experience, your average filmgoer might find themselves drained by the non-stop stomach knotting mayhem. That is if they didn’t already find the contents of said stomach drained through their mouths by the film’s insane levels of gruesome violence. Also, much like the first film, the amount of physical abuse absorbed and seemingly just shaken off by the film’s lead cast surpasses superhuman and begins to almost approach laughable levels in places, while unfortunate extras seem to have bones made of matchsticks and the pain threshold of a colicky toddler. And for all the newly found ambition courtesy of Evans’ Godfather-esque operatic plotting, none of the actors are really hard pressed to match up to it, with their only memorable performances involving creative ways to turn their co-stars’ insides into outsides.
Barring those few flaws though, The Raid 2: Berandal is one of those rare cases where the sequel to a brilliant film surpasses it in every way. In The Raid: Redemption Evans, Uwais and co crafted the best martial arts action movie of the last few decades, but with this follow-up they not only stole that crown, but also produced one of the best movies – period – that you will see this year.
The Raid 2: Berandal is out now on VOD on iTunes.
Last Updated: July 7, 2014