The Raid 2 is a gloriously savage affair that ups the ante more than any action movie in recent memory.
The Raid 2: Berandal
Welsh-born filmmaker Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemtion shook up the martial arts movie genre in 2011 with its exhilarating action, scintillating fight choreography, and no-holds-barred brutality. The film didn’t have much of a plot to speak of: A police raid on an apartment building filled with deadly gangsters doesn’t go as planned, and voila! We’ve got a killer action movie. Droves of martial arts movie devotees flocked to Evans’ mini-masterpiece of bodily destruction, and now he’s followed it up with The Raid 2: Berandal, a sprawling film (it’s an hour longer) with an expanded narrative element and, impossibly, better fight scenes than the original.
Picking up right where the first film left off, we rejoin ass-kicking rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), who’s thrown into a new mission before he can wipe the dried blood from his fists. He’s sent behind bars undercover to earn the trust of Uco (Arifin Putra), the arrogant only son of crime lord Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). After saving Uco’s skin a few times (most notably during an incredible prison riot sequence set in a muddier than muddy courtyard), Rama (now going by the name Yuda) becomes his right-hand man and earns himself a spot as a henchman in Bangun’s mob after serving his 4-year sentence in the slammer. Making this absurd commitment to his undercover work even more difficult is the fact that he’s left his family to fend for themselves, missing a big chunk of his son’s childhood. While Rama is under Bangun’s employ, a gang war erupts, stemming from a few shady dealings made by Uco, who’s been obsessed with the fact that he’s relegated to diminutive tasks by his father despite being the sole heir to the throne. Amid the chaos, Rama discovers that the cops he works for may be as unscrupulous as the criminals.
While The Raid takes place over the course of a day, The Raid 2 covers several years and locations, and narratively, the scale and depth Evans adds here is staggering. The intricacies of the gang dynamics, set against the backdrop of Bangun and Uco’s father-son conflict and the even larger Sisyphean tale of Rama, can be overwhelming at times. When your adrenaline is still running high following a fight scene and you’re chomping at the bit for more, it’s hard to keep your brain focused on the finer plot details which, if you miss too many, can pile up and make it hard to keep track. Once all is said and done, the overall shape of the story comes across clearly, but some expositional segments feel disposable, especially when sandwiched in between the film’s amazing fight sequences.
The fights are so breathless, so immaculately constructed and filmed that it bandages any negative impact the inflated story has on the experience. Uwais is marvelous on screen, moving at light speed, with pinpoint precision and controlled viciousness. It must take a world of focus and practice to pull of the superhuman choreography Uwais and his team have designed, but every move he and the supporting fighters make looks spontaneous and urgent.
And urgency is what informs Evans’ camera, which is as nimble and mobile as the actors. In an amazing shot, a man is sprinting toward the camera and then suddenly jumps laterally, crashing through a window and landing on his side on the ground. Evans twists the camera with the actor, falling from vertical to horizontal, a kinetic, jaw-dropping effect. He’s a brilliant action director and editor, always knowing exactly what to show, how long to show it, and how to make each blow look unimaginably painful. Cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono, who also worked on the first film, have outdone themselves here, making the tornado-like fights easy to follow and coherent.
The gore factor is high here, even higher than its bloody predecessor. Body parts are twisted and turned the wrong way, skin is slashed, and heads get caved in by a variety of deadly instruments (including a baseball bat, swung by the aptly, hilariously named Baseball Bat Man). This is midnight horror movie-level stuff, for sure. The sheer variety of the fights stands out, with each scenario giving Uwais and his dance partners something different to do. There are fights in cramped spaces like a bathroom stall and the backseat of a car; there are wide-open brawls in flat arenas like the aforementioned riot scene, and in vertical arenas like a night club with cascading balconies; and there’s even a car chase that may be the most violent since Tarantino’s Death Proof.
The crowning jewel of the film, however, is the climactic one-on-one kitchen fight scene, which is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a beautiful crescendo of intricate exchanges, false stops, and ferocious flashes of violence. What’s most impressive is that the scene is long, but in a good way: We feel exhausted ourselves watching them devote every fiber of their being to the battle, and as it goes on and on, the characters seem to develop an inexplicable wordless bond as kindred warriors born to battle each other at that very moment. It’s strangely emotional and completely riveting. The Raid 2 is a gloriously savage affair that ups the ante more than any action movie in recent memory.