– by Tom Munday
Sweeping through the film festival circuit back in 2012, Indonesian action flick The Raid: Redemption certainly made a name for itself. Kicking ass and taking names with each adrenaline-charged screening, the movie captivated critics and filmgoers alike. This sleeper hit, injecting some much-needed energy into the declining genre, raised the bar for action flicks of all movements. By Comparison, the Expendables series comes off like a timid, childish creation. The Expendables 3 now has major challenges to overcome to achieve even a slither of recognition.
Before the movie’s release, people groaned whenever an action flick raised its ugly head. We were sick of the same big-name actors, directors, and writers headlining each and every blockbuster. Thankfully, now that The Raid: Redemption and its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal have been unleashed, we can reflect upon the genre as a whole. Seriously, does anyone want to be a Michael Bay? Or a Peter Berg? Or a Zack Snyder? No, not anymore. Righteously, these people are ridiculed for commendable reasons.
The Raid 2: Berandal proves that the little guys always have the most expansive ideas. Writer/director Gareth Evans, travelling from Wales to Indonesia to discover more about martial arts and Indonesian cinema, has achieved the near impossible – he has reinvigorated, arguably, cinema’s most popular genre. Hopefully, Evans will embrace the overwhelming praise he’s received and continue-on with this series. Thankfully, if he decides to venture into other genres, the SXSW crowds will always be on his side.
The original, set in one location throughout its breezy run-time, is the tip of the iceberg compared to its sequel. Here, Evans takes the original’s seminal tropes and expands upon them. The original’s gangster-infested apartment block is the least of this universe’s problems. Set two hours after the original, The Raid 2: Berandal chronicles brutal yet efficient SWAT team member Rama(Iko Uwais)’s transition from humble family man to vengeful force of nature. Rescued from the original’s disastrous events, Rama and his fellow survivors are questioned by a valuable sector of Jakarta’s questionable police department.
Led by Bunwar (Cok Simbara), this anti-corruption task force immediately throws Rama back into the deep end. Learning of his brother’s assassination, Rama says goodbye to his family and heads undercover into Jakarta’s dangerous organised crime universe. Sent to prison, Rama attempts to root-out the source of the country’s slimiest characters. After a vicious prison fight in a bathroom stall – one of the movie’s many scintillating action sequences – Rama is introduced to Uco (Arifin Putra). Uco, envious son of big-time gangster Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), attempts to lure Rama onto his side.
At this point, the plot’s many twists and turns become apparent. After a visceral prison yard brawl, Rama saves Uco from a violent death. Two years later, Rama is released into Uco and Bangun’s care. From here, the movie delves into an intricate narrative involving gangsters, assassins, and honourable deaths. The convoluted plot takes several leaps of faith. Relying on an ever-lasting adrenaline rush, the movie hits the brakes at the halfway mark. The story relies on specific crime cinema tropes. As a flavourful mix of Infernal Affairs and Hard Boiled, the movie distressingly clings onto multiple cinema movements and genre tropes.
Infatuated with Martin Scorsese, John Woo, Nicholas Winding Refn, and Takeshi Kitano, Evans revels in the genre’s seminal aspects. Its fascinating seeing an up-and-coming director displaying his true potential. However, by widening the series’ scope, Evans proves to be more interested in direction than screenwriting. Packing this sequel with more characters and story-threads than required, the plot delves into contrivances, unending speeches, and befuddling alliances. With arguments and tension-inducing moments taking over, the action almost fades away from the movie’s line of sight.
Looking past this, I realise fans of the original aren’t heading into the sequel eager for a profound and intellectually stimulating narrative. Understandably, they want to see more of Evans’ sprawling set pieces and immaculate attention to detail. Thankfully, he doesn’t disappoint. With its wider scope and kooky supporting characters, this sequel breaks down literal and figurative obstacles. From the get-go, the action reigns supreme over the conventional narrative. The first and last thirds are controlled by shockingly impactful and creative action sequences. Delivering on their promises, each set piece contains extravagant choreography and tightly-controlled camerawork.
Avoiding modern Hollywood’s quick-cut-shaky-cam style, Evans delivers one awe-inspiring and inventive moment after another. The prison brawl, dousing its combatants in a thick layer of mud, is a distressing and fascinating sequence. With extended takes capturing punches, kicks, and stabs, this sequence is seemingly difficult to conquer. However, elevating his film above the norm, the final third’s car chase is an insatiably-staged set piece. Featuring a fight between Rama and four henchmen inside a car, this deftly-handled sequence delivers multiple surprises. Not to be overlooked, sibling assassins Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tsi Yulisman) are cartoonish and morose creations.
In addition, unlike most Hollywood action flicks, the pulsating gore kicks each set piece into overdrive. Breaking bones, slicing vital organs, and eviscerating muscle tissue, the fist-fights and shootouts drown themselves in blood-splatters, high stakes, and tight pacing. Gleefully, the violence is almost entirely centred around Rama. As a no-nonsense ball of energy, Rama delivers a never-ending amount of mayhem and destruction. Rama, fighting for his family’s safety, is a noble protagonist. Forced into fistfights with a varying assortment of criminals and dirty cops, his will to live is nothing short of unconscionable.
Beyond multiple scenes of Rama destroying entire gangs within three-minute spaces, his best action sequence involves only one, equally destructive, opponent. Within an industrial kitchen space, these two men fight with fists, feet, knives, and utensils. This unending sequence caps off one of the decade’s most invigorating action extravaganzas. Of course, credit belongs to Uwais for committing to this intensive role. Given only a handful of lines, Uwais’ baby-faced aesthetic and signature body language bolster his immense prowess.
Being a young male, I could simply ignore the negatives and embrace the movie’s all-encompassing vision. In fact, the stellar visuals and thrilling action sequences are nothing short of brilliant. However, to deliver a fair and honest review, I must state my disdain toward the convoluted narrative. Despite gracefully paying homage to Hollywood and Asian cinema, Evans’ reach drastically exceeds its grasp. Hopefully, he won’t send Rama after me. I still love the movie, I swear! Just look at the above score!