In 2012, The Raid kicked unsuspecting action fans squarely in the nuts with its relentless 90-minute onslaught of brutal and bloody violence. Just over two years later, we get the follow-up, The Raid 2: Berandal. Instead of rehashing what worked for the first film, director Gareth Evans expands the scale from its predecessor’s skeletal, Donkey Kong-like plot.
Picking up immediately from the end of the first film, it’s clear Evans and co. have bigger things in mind this time around. Unveiling a complicated and far-reaching network of rivalling criminal organisations, Iko Uwais’ Rama is immediately thrown into a long-term undercover assignment, which starts by throwing him in jail with an unsuspecting son of a gangster boss. The aim is to infiltrate the syndicate in order to finally stop the wave of violence tearing through Jakarta once and for all.
What follows is “Aliens” to The Raid‘s “Alien”; a criminal epic of such proportions that it boggles the mind to think it was all made on a meagre budget of just $4 million. At a staggering 150 minutes, Berandal does much more than merely treat the viewer to a succession of insanely choreographed stunt sequences (of which there is no shortage, mind you). It weaves a tapestry of crime, betrayal, family tragedies, themes of loneliness and loss and even a series of analogies on the ultimate futility of violence.
This time around, Rama faces much more than simply the prospect of getting blown up in a police raid. He faces years of separation from his family, the moral conflict of helping the criminal syndicate he’s infiltrating, and the risk of one day looking in the mirror only to see the type of person he wanted to dedicate his life to eradicate.
Even though the film is Indonesian, its subject matter resonates on a global scale, in no small part thanks to Gareth Evans’ unflinching conviction in the script, flaws and all. It sets up so many plot points that it risks getting lost in its own twists just over halfway through, but thankfully finds its way just in time for a breathless, 50-minute final showdown. This all-out finale dwarfs the first film on its own in terms of scale, bloodshed and pure velocity, and is preceded by a full 100 minutes of carefully constructed crime drama on top.
Iko Uwais is surrounded by a host of intriguing characters, many of which are very well fleshed out. most notably the don’s son Uco (Arifin Putra), who teeters on the edge of psychosis as he struggles with the unravelling of his father’s empire, and Cecep Arif Rahman’s Assassin, Rama’s nemesis. More outlandish, but fantastically entertaining are “Hammer Girl” and “Baseball Bat Man”, who inject some much-needed fun into the proceedings.
As before, the cinematography and editing is intense and frantic during the fight scenes, and manages to expand the scale way beyond what could reasonably be expected by the budget, for example in a completely outrageous fight scene in a speeding car and a brutal drug den raid. And then the final fight scene is visual poetry in its own right.
The Raid 2: Berandal blind-sides the viewer no less than its predecessor, but this time by presenting a sprawling, if occasionally convoluted action epic, without sacrificing an inch of its brutally violent fight scenes. It’s bigger, bulkier and a bit slower by definition, but builds up to one of the best action films not only of the year, but this young century so far.