The Raid 2: Berandal (Rated R, 150 minutes)
The Raid 2 is a huge step forward for the Indonesian action franchise because like most sequels it attempts to go bigger. But it is not only the action set pieces that are more elaborate and elongated; the scope of the story reveals the ambitions of writer and director Gareth Evans. While the original is a contained 90-minute rip-roaring martial arts thrill ride, the sequel is a 150-minute gangster epic; but do not worry, there are still plenty of martial arts. In fact, the sequel surpasses the choreographed violence of its predecessor. However, it differs in its attempts to tell a story, which ‘sort of’ elevates itself from an ‘action movie status.’ The sequel takes place merely hours after the original and has the surviving cop Rama (Iko Uwais) going deep undercover and befriending the wildly ambitious Ucok, who is the son of the Jakarta cartel leader, Bangun.
While the over arching story is Rama’s journey from prison inmate to cartel enforcer, the back-story is the shaky truce between the Jakarta and Japanese cartel. The fact that both families own a piece of the city is an extremely important plot point, even if the Japanese family is rarely seen: the story is already convoluted enough without them. And yes, anyone can see that there are too many things going on in The Raid 2, but also, the convoluted plot has many things that could be considered cliché: for instance, the overly ambitious mob son, the father who does not think his son is ready, the shaky truce between two cartels. And while most action movies have a plot that is designed to get from one action scene to another, I felt that these sub-plots were interesting enough to warrant my attention.
And never is the story sacrificed for the violence; the plot in act one progresses at a slow pace and the movie wants the audience to get emotionally invested in Rama. For instance, Rama’s growing platonic friendship to the mobster’s son reflects the friendship he never had with his own brother. Again, this is the overused cliché, where the undercover agent eventually feels loyalty to his ‘adoptive family’ or the mob: a key plot element of classics like Donnie Brasco and even The Departed.
But as previously said, these plot points did not bother me because I was engaged by the many flamboyant characters who are serviceable to the story. The Raid 2 does a good job humanizing the mobsters: Eka, Ucok, and even Bangun get enough screen time to be established and developed individuals. With that said, not every character will be three-dimensional; sometimes, especially in action movies, there are one-dimensional villains like ‘Baseball Bat Man’ and ‘Hammer Girl.’ And while most of the time I want my movies to have fully fleshed out characters, these two in particular serve their menacing purpose and are actually quite effective.
However, there are certain elements of the sequel that do not work and should have been edited. The writer and director, Gareth Evans, has also edited this film; while he has a keen eye for directing and editing action scenes, throughout the picture he either lingers too long on random camera shots or keeps scenes that are pointless to the overall plot. And before seeing The Raid 2, I did not know Gareth Evans was the editor, but by the end, it is clearly obvious that someone afraid to ‘trim the fat’ edited it. I understand that a director looks at their films like children, and as a result, it is harder to remove scenes. But, this could have been twenty minutes shorter and as a result it would have been a tighter product; instead, the director keeps scenes that makes this feel like a rough cut. This editing problem is furthered seen in the scenes prior to big fights; Gareth Evans knows how to build up the tension before the violence, but sometimes, he waits way too long to actually start the scenes. Yes, the tension before the action is almost as important, but again, these parts could have been trimmed down to make an overall tighter product.
But all of this does not matter once the picture cranks up the intensity; even with the sequel’s expansive story, the movie is going to succeed or fail on its action. Now, I said it is going to be hard for the sequel to surpass its predecessor’s action, but The Raid 2 surpasses the original in every single way. The successor is bigger and bolder, but does not lose the intense charm of the original. On top of this, the ferocity of the original meshes well with the more elaborate action set pieces: there is a car chase sequence in act two, which is absolutely exhilarating and will keep the audience on the edge of their seat.
Also, the original succeeded because every action scene topped the previous one; this is something that could have been difficult to do in a 150-minute epic, meanwhile, the movie does it unflinchingly. By the time the film gets to the end, audiences will need an oxygen tank to keep up; the final boss battles are extremely long, but they work because of the direction and choreography. Gareth Evans should get praised for his debut films; he has made two breathtaking pictures and the sequel shows he has grown as a filmmaker. For instance, the original felt like a straightforward action flick, meanwhile, the sequel has an artsy flair to it that clearly reminded me of Nicolas Winding Refn: it shared a similar color palette to Drive and Only God Forgives. The Raid 2 has hopelessly harrowing shots that are lit up with bright neon colors, which represents the artificial-nature of the world: something that is perfected in Only God Forgives.
However, there are still key problems with his direction; a few of the fights scenes are done in one continuous shot. And while this is a cool idea on paper, the lack of a steadicam results in a constantly shaking camera; and ultimately leads to the audience unable to interpret the on-screen action. Shaky cam is the worst camera technique in the history of cinema and its inclusion almost ruins the film; and thankfully, its underutilization in the later acts results in me forgiving this problem. In the end, the action is fast, gruesome, intense, and livening; and it is safe to say that this has the greatest action set pieces that I have ever seen in a major motion picture.
Now, The Raid 2 is in the upper echelon of action movies and it even attempts to elevate itself to something more than a mindless adrenaline fueled romp: the color palette, direction, and story are all evidence to this. However, if the flick did not deliver on its action then this would ultimately be deemed a failure; therefore, I appreciate the added layers, but in the end, I am able to forgive its multiple flaws because of its thrilling set pieces. And I cannot wait to see what Gareth Evans has in store for the trilogy’s finale; it will be exciting to see how he tops this martial arts masterpiece.