The Raid: Redemption exploded onto screens in 2011 and gave the action genre a swift kick in the face. And then another one to the ribs. And then an elbow. And then 8 punches to the stomach. All in about 30 seconds. Gareth Evans’ Indonesian martial arts masterpiece surprised the film community with a mostly unknown style of martial arts and a simple straightforward premise. Star and fight choreographer Iko Uwais has spoken about Evans’ desire to make a large scale gangster movie set in this world and how it was primarily monetary constraints that led to the premise of the first film. This time around Evans and the rest of the team have a higher budget to play around with and his ambition and passion for this world are completely on display.
Ambition is a word that quickly comes to mind with The Raid 2: Berandal. Behind the camera Gareth Evans brings everything he has to this picture. The action is bigger and more brutal than ever. The scope of the story has also been greatly expanded this time around. We pick up almost immediately after the end of the first film. Rama’s wounds haven’t even begun to heal before his superiors see fit to put him another extremely dangerous situation. Now instead of taking down one man, Rama must go undercover and infiltrate a criminal organization in order to bring down the corrupt cops that allow the criminals to run the city. Once in prison, Rama befriends Uco( the charismatic Arifin Putra). Uco’s father Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) is the leader of the biggest local criminal organization and is grooming Uco to take eventually take over. After spending two years in prison Rama goes to work for Bangun shadowing Uco as he enforces his father’s will around the city. Things go according plan until Uco’s ambition and a new criminal element threaten the balance power between Bangun’s organization and the japanese Goto family. It isn’t long before a war begins and brings with it plenty of bloodshed.
Berandal wastes no time getting the action started and soon Rama is dispatching hordes of enemies with his bare hands. I mentioned the passion that you can feel from Gareth Evans in this film and it really oozes out of every inch of the film. This is most apparent in the way Evans operates his camera. The camera is filled with the same fluidity and grace of motion present in the action he shoots. An early prison brawl in a giant mud pit is easily one of the most impressive action set-pieces ever put on film. The way Evans camera maneuvers around the massive fight without losing a solid sense of geography is impressive. Even just the fact that Evans allows his shots to linger and that the action isn’t cut to ribbons is a breath of fresh air in the action genre. Couple that with hard hitting martial arts choreography from Uwais and Yayan Ruhian and you have another action classic on your hands.
That Evans excels at shooting action is something we already knew from the first Raid film. Unfortunately his handle on the script isn’t as strong. The plot is sprawling and deals with not only Rama’s mission and other story threads also include: a new crime lord looking to expand his empire, a fearsome assassin trying to provide for his family, and Uco’s attempt to gain more power. That’s a lot of ground to cover. At two and a half hours Berandal is a serious time commitment. The action is all top-notch but there’s almost too much of it. The picture is a little overstuffed if Evans wants us to fully appreciate both the action and the drama.
At the end of the day even though the dramatic beats didn’t all land for me I didn’t really care. Putra and Pakusadewo sold me on their father-son interactions enough to keep me from being bored and Ruhian creates what is probably the most interesting character in the film in just three scenes. This was enough to keep me invested in the narrative between the action scenes. I got exactly what I wanted(and more!) from this film. It had tremendous and inventive action with and truly memorable characters. While it isn’t as streamlined as its predecessor, Berandal is another impressive entry into the action genre from Evans and his team.