The Raid 2: Berandal Review
Apparently director Gareth Evans hasn’t heard that sequels are meant to be a massive disappointment for fans of beloved films, because The Raid 2: Berandal kicks the living bejeezus out of that concept. 2011’s The Raid set a benchmark for bat-shit-crazy martial arts set pieces, the likes of which induced guttural reactions from audiences, mostly due to the high impact, savage fighting style on display. Whilst the action got the blood pumping, it was wrapped in a grounded, well crafted and character-based story which really resonated with me. The Raid 2 deftly expands upon the world created in the first film, showing us the true breadth and depth of the corruption and violence which plagues the city.
The beauty of this series is the simplistic storytelling. The first film revolves around a SWAT team storming a baddie-infested apartment building in order to take down a criminal kingpin; that is until all hell breaks loose. This film is set two hours after the events of the first film: our hero Rama (Iku Uwais) has hobbled his way to safety only to learn that his mission is only just beginning and that he is required to go undercover to help root out corrupt police by infiltrating a notorious criminal organisation. Whilst the film doesn’t exactly stray too far from the standard ‘undercover cop’ tropes, what it does, it does well. This is Rama’s journey through the criminal underworld of Jakarta but at the same time it’s looking at the political, economic and criminal machinations of a decaying city where the rats are squabbling over what’s left. Oh, and there’s the little matter of action set pieces which make those of first film seem like a playful wrestle by comparison (just picture what is possible once you have an entire city to play with …
Whereas The Raid clipped along at a breakneck pace, Evans displayed a real sense of patience this time around. You’d be forgiven if you thought he’d jump straight back into the craziness, but instead the opening scenes build the tension as though we are meant to be taking deep breaths for what’s in store for us. When the action kicks off (pun intended) it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Given the success of the first film, I’m guessing Mr Evans has been given free reign artistically and an abundance of extras to throw around, since the film is nearly an hour longer than the original and the scale is far grander. It’s as if he’s seamlessly woven together films like The Godfather, Infernal Affairs and Only God Forgives whilst injecting the action we crave.
Taking the action to multiple locations and a more dynamic use of the camera indicates how Evans is improving as film maker. I particularly enjoyed the use of a top down angle over the action, especially when shooting in a toilet cubicle and during a high speed car chase. The angle completely opens up the scene and it’s not used often enough, in my opinion. Whilst the fighting style is similar to the first film, there is a little more reliance on weapons this time around, which, lets face it, is never a bad thing, right? Martial arts films with well-drilled, highly-stylised choreography can at sometimes can border on a pornographic-like quality in terms of repetition of images and manoeuvres, which in this case is rescued by the additional locations and varied length of the encounters, and lends them variety and spark.
For the most part, the performances are decent without being memorable. Some of the villains come within a hair's breadth of being cartoonish, but that is to be expected in a film like this. I tend to let the more ridiculous elements slide when it’s all so damn entertaining. Whilst being a man of few words, Iku Uwais conveys a smouldering intensity as Rama; his placid mannerisms are in such stark contrast to the brutality of his martial arts. Yayan Ruhian plays Prakoso, a thug-for-hire type which is seemingly modelled very closely on his character of Mad Dog from the first film, although this time round he has a hint of emotion to him. Alex Abbad (Bejo) and Arifin Putra (Ucok) play the moustache-twirling pantomime villains who act as a thematic counterweight to Rama. The only other major additions are a trio of characters called Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) and The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman). I’d love to tell you what they bring to the mix but let’s just say they’ll definitely tickle your fancy when they are unleashed.
The Raid 2: Berandal is a fantastic sequel which surpasses the lofty standards of the first film. It’s an exercise in both brains and brawn, showing just how powerful action films can be in the hands of a talented storyteller. This is a film begging to be seen in a packed cinema full of genre fans looking for a wild ride. Please do not miss this one.
The Raid 2: Berandal crashes into select cinemas this Friday. If you see the mayhem and agree or disagree with my thoughts feel free to drop a line below.