Jaw-dropping. Eye-popping. Astounding. Amazing.
Let’s get those descriptors right out of the way immediately and get straight to the point: The Raid 2: Berandal is, in every way, a vast improvement over its predecessor, The Raid: Redemption, which was already a fantastic action film and one that (I would think) would be hard to top. Writer/director Gareth Huw Evans is back in the driver’s seat, hellbent on speeding us along at 150 miles per hour into a brick wall with the malevolently gleeful intention of letting us enjoy every bit of carnage possible.
A little backstory for why The Raid 2: Berandal exists: this is the movie Evans wanted to make originally, but could not due to the budget given. Instead, he cranked out The Raid: Redemption (simply titled The Raid in other countries), a film about a police tactical team storming an apartment slum building to roust the drug lord who owns it. As one might think when given that one-sentence summary, things just don’t go well at all – the drug lord’s minions are prepared for them, eradicating all but three members of the 20-member riot squad with guns, knives, and hand-to-hand combat.
What made The Raid: Redemption special was its mix of bloodily visceral action, the staging of the various fight scenes, and the kinetic camerawork that captures all of it. If ever there was an argument to be made in favor of digital filmmaking, it is The Raid: Redemption. Using smaller digital cameras, Evans takes us through holes in floors, moves us through crawlspaces with machetes poking out of the walls, and makes us bounce with every head impact inflicted on the camera’s subjects.
The Raid 2: Berandal continues this approach, as we are shown angles in fights and car chases that would be nigh impossible without seriously damaging a traditional film camera. Evans seems to want to not just make us a fly on the wall, but more like a parrot on a pirate’s shoulder as he takes us out of the confines of the apartment tower block and into the large world of Jakarta’s gangland. From the horizontal size of the film frame itself to the multi-layered story’s scope, Evans makes everything bigger and more intricate in comparison to the previous film.
Immediately after the opening logos, we are greeted with a sight that lets us know that we’re going to be in a different world than that of The Raid: Redemption’s claustrophobic tower block: a 2.35:1 widescreen shot of a grassy farmland with cars coming up the road toward the camera’s position. Soon after that, we’re given the bloody reason why Rama (Iko Uwais), one of the three survivors from that fated apartment building assault, goes undercover as the henchman/companion for Uco (Arifin Putra), a local crime lord’s son.
Whereas The Raid: Redemption spent very little time on its story for the sake of keeping the pace fast and furious, The Raid 2: Berandal dwells in Rama’s undercover life for a while, noting the lack of contact he’s had with his father, his wife, and his infant son. But when alliances start forming and betrayals erupt, it doesn’t take long for the action to get serious. Evans seems to want to bring a film to audiences unlike anything they’ve ever seen, and he succeeds in doing so through his use of tight camerawork and action that doesn’t stop until the victor stands atop the loser’s bloody corpse.
Sure, we’ve all seen fight scenes in films before, but not like this. Evans makes his fights as devastatingly real as possible, where bodily damage and blood loss play an active part in each person’s ability to respond to kicks and punches (as opposed to movies where some guy gets shot and pretty much flounces through his remaining action sequences seemingly unharmed). He also makes us squirm with some of the violence on-screen; there’s one head-shot in the movie that made the theaterful of critics at my screening wince, with one saying aloud, “Dude… really?” It gets nasty and quite gory as Evans goes the extra length to show the grisly consequences of his characters’ actions.
The final act of Rama’s vengeance takes us from the macro to the micro, fighting off varying stages of enemies until getting to what video gamers call “the Boss Battles,” a triumvirate of assassins which Rama must defeat in order to get to the final showdown. And wowee, it’s quite a ride. Each fight expands in intensity until the big kitchen matchup, and… seriously, it’s unwise for me to go any further.
If The Raid: Redemption is considered by many to be THE definitive modern action picture, then I’d go so far as to say that The Raid 2: Berandal is to action movies as what The Godfather Part II is to drama movies. Both employ a greater range and a more detailed, complicated story to further their heroes, and they both find themselves in opposite unfamiliar territory (Don Michael Corleone’s trying to go legitimate while Rama has to get dirty). Where The Raid 2: Berandal absolutely shines is in its fight choreography and the camerawork responsible for bringing it to us. Just wait until you get to that kitchen sequence, and Rama and his opponent start sliding toward each other even before the first punch is thrown… you’ll be full-to-bursting with anticipation and your hackles will be raised. Be assured that Evans and company will not let you down.
(Special thanks to Matthew Razak of Flixist.)