The Raid 2: Berandal
Two years ago, the Indonesian film, The Raid: Redemption, smacked action movie fans upside the head. To briefly sum it up, it was nuts.
The straight-forward plot took a backseat to some amazing stunt work, an insane amount of creative choreography and in-your-face violence. There’s no need to worry about the sequel not living up to the original with this film, since the highly-anticipated The Raid 2: Berandal is bigger and faster and even offers an indepth story to wrap your brain around - which getting hit upside the head once again.
Taking place a mere two hours after the previous film, we catch up with battered rookie SWAT member, Rama (Iko Uwais), who’s brought in corrupt cop, Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), and is now being taken in by a mysterious group within the police force that has a specific focus. While they commend Rama for a job well done, they now want him to go undercover, taking him once again away from his family and immersing him in the crime lords, corrupt cops and assortment of thugs and scumbags of Jakarta.
He’s reluctant at first, but when his brother is killed off by Bejo (Alex Abbad), a young and erratic gangster, Rama is determined to take down mob boss, Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) and anyone associated with him.
The super cop starts in prison, where he befriends Bangun’s only son, Uco (Arifin Putra), making sure nothing happens to him, so when they get out, Rama has an in with the family business.
As he earns their trust, Rama is forced to go along with brutal acts of violence in order to stay in character, finding himself in the middle of a complicated gang war. But as me makes progress on his dangerous mission, the restless Uco takes a series of deceptive steps to usurp his father and take out all the rival families.
The plot for Berandal almost sounds as straight-forward as it’s predecessor, but with all the double-crosses and multiple characters (both new andold), this film calls for the audience to pay much more attention to the story than the action. Redemption was definitely more concise, but it feels like there’s more at stake in Berandal. It could be because our unbelievably unstoppable hero (seriously, Rama is like a hybrid of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Wile E. Coyote) is alone and not backed by a SWAT team. He has to convincingly play the part of lethal assassin and trusted enforcer, while being mindful not to give away his true intentions.
That’s not to say that Welsh-born writer/director Gareth Evans holds back on the action. As mentioned, this is a sequel that amplifies everything, cranking up the intensity to eleven. Brutality, amputations and decapitations are around every corner, making just about every bloody scene a nail-biter.
But just as the narrative is broadened here, so too is the scope and geography of it all. Free of the confinement of a high-rise building, Berandal opens itself up to a wider landscape, from a muddy extended fight sequence in prison to one of the most creative and incredible car chases I’ve seen in recent years.
As Evans jerks us from one set piece to the next, he confirms himself as one of the greatest action directors working today. None of the scenes are predictable or hard to follow, but they do get more and more gruesome and painful to watch. By the end of the movie, you’ll want to check yourself into an emergency room.
In the spirit of upping the ante, Evans gives Rama three formidable foes to contend with for the film’s climactic third act. There’s The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman), who has a penchant for knives, Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), whose weapons of choice are all in her name and her brother, Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), who also fancies an obvious weapon.
These guys will make your palms sweat. You won’t be able to take your eyes off their cringe-worthy fights with Rama and their scenes wind up being some of the most memorable of Berandal. What they lack in dialogue they make up for in physical presence.
Speaking of dialogue, the actors have much more to say in this sequel. There are definitely plot-forwarding moments between fights that involve exposition or character development and normally I would complain about such scenes slowing down the pace, but in this case, they were a welcome breather. Evans allows us to come up for air in these talking heads scenes, as he builds more conflict and tightens the psychological screws on Rama’s situation.
Uwai's committed portrayal of Rama is the driving force of the film, despite several other compelling performances. Like in Redemption, he plays Rama as our gateway to this crazy world of relentless action and betrayal. It’s easy to be both amazed and entertained by this actor’s physically exhaustive efforts, yet the emotional beats of desperation and frustration are there as well.
As if we couldn’t tell from this previous films, The Raid 2 confirms Evans as a remarkable and exciting action director. By varying his approach from shakey cam to long shots and quick cuts, Evans keeps the visceral momentum going while leaving us guessing what could possibly come next.
There are definitely scenes in this film where I found myself cringing from the unsettling action. Maybe I was uneasy that I was actually getting a kick out of it all. That’s what a good action high does though. My nerves still get rattled thinking about The Raid 2: Berandal and that confirms its success. This is a must-see for action movie fans.