The Raid 2 leaves us somewhere in a middle ground: a slow and convoluted crime saga story to sift through in order to experience some bigger, bloodier, crazier action sequence highlights.
The Raid 2 (also known as Berandal) picks up hours after the events of The Raid: Redemption, as the fallout from rookie cop Rama's (Iko Uwais) siege on Boss Tama's high-rise compound makes big ripples in both the cop and crook worlds. Rama quickly finds himself between a rock and a hard place; not only are murderous gangsters looking for him, the corrupt cops and politicians who green-lit Boss Tama's trap are after him as well. On the advice of a veteran cop he can trust, Rama agrees to a dangerous mission: go undercover in the criminal underworld to root-out the real threat of political corruption in Jakarta.
After much time and hardship, Rama manages to infiltrate the inner circle of Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). But as the saying goes, it's warmer under the dragon's wing than one might think. When rival gang leader Bejo (Alex Abbad) starts a clandestine war for the streets of Jakarta, Rama finds that his choice of bedfellows isn't as clear-cut as he originally thought - and not everyone is who they originally seem to be.
The Raid: Redemption was nothing short of a new milestone for the action genre (read my 5-Star review - Spoilers: I liked it). Using bare minimum, writer/director Gareth Evans scrapped together a sick single-setting action/horror thrill ride, complete with camera tricks and martial arts choreography that hadn't really been seen before; living in that shadow, The Raid 2 would have to do something truly astounding to top its predecessor. Sadly, despite its expansive ambitions, The Raid 2 falls short of matching the simple pleasure of the first installment - but for action fans, there is still some next-level stunt and choreography work alive and present in Evans' sequel.
Berandal is basically the movie Evans wanted to make before budgetary restrictions forced him to make The Raid: Redemption instead. The sequel in many ways seems like a celebration of the first film's success (and an expanded budget), which is both good and bad for the film, overall. Yes, there are some pretty crazy ambitious set pieces and fight sequences - and a lot more evidence of Evans' stylistic fingerprint in the way shots and sequences are designed and executed onscreen (see: the prison yard riot sequence). The Raid 2 looks - on a directorial level - much more sophisticated and lavish than The Raid 1, proving that Evans has artistry to go along with those action sequencing skills.
However, much of The Raid 2's biggest sequences feel arbitrary and disconnected from overly convoluted narrative (more on that later). On the whole, the film feels like "action porn" - i.e., a pastiche of scenes and bloody "money shots" that are loosely strung together by a flimsy and clichéd narrative, which only serves to transition us from one bloody sequence to another. Several of the battle sequences have nothing at all to do with our main character - they're just there as evidence of Evans' filmmaking creativity and prowess, another deposit in the Berandal money-shot bank. In the moment, each action sequence is pretty captivating to watch - but without proper story/character support, the film becomes a flaccid routine around the time the thirtieth bone is being sadistically broken, or the seventeenth gash is being grotesquely cut through flesh. The pleasure quotient of action porn has a pretty short shelf-life.
That's not to say that Evans doesn't tack a story onto The Raid 2; in fact, it's a much more intricate and layered story than first film. However, complexity is not always a good thing: the first film benefitted from its thrilling simplicity (get to the top of a building full of psycho addicts and murders without dying); the sequel nearly drowns in its over-bloated cast of characters and their accompanying storylines. Just talking dramatis personae: there are three crime boss characters (Indonesian, Japanese and Arab); a Godfather-style father/son crime drama; a whole sub-set of assassin characters who get their own storylines and sequences; and oh yeah, Rama's Infernal Affairs undercover drama is part of it, too.
It's far too much to keep track of, and at 2.5 hours of runtime, the bloated weight of the film is all too noticeable as it drags along. The Raid 2 is admittedly a universe-expanding chapter of the franchise (stay tuned for The Raid 3), and so therefore it has a lot of narrative to service and set up - but some of the choices that Evans makes with the storyline are downright shocking - and not in a good way. The first 10 minutes of the film will likely baffle fans of the first film - as will the point where the sequel leaves off. Worse yet, the overall point or theme of this intricately woven crime saga is unclear, as the violent climax doesn't work nearly as smartly or as effectively as, say, the final moments of PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood - which this movie has "borrowed" from quite liberally...
The cast of actors include both veteran and fresh faces from the Indonesian film industry - including some regulars from "Camp Evans." Performances are solid, with Tio Pakusodewo bringing some theatrical gravitas to make Bangun an interesting antagonist, and Iko Uwais being given a lot more range to work with. Julie Estelle's "Hammer Girl" doesn't say much but will nonetheless be a fan-favorite (one of the better elements of the movie); but Yayan Ruhian ('Mad Dog' from the first film) is completely shoehorned into the mix, in what is one of film's most needless and extraneous plot threads. The physical acting is top of its game though, and is easily the one area in which the sequel exceeds the original. Some of what choreographers Uwais and Ruhian come up with is deliciously crazy... and pretty awesome to witness onscreen.
Ultimately, The Raid 2 leaves us somewhere in a middle ground: a slow and convoluted crime saga story to sift through in order to experience some bigger, bloodier, crazier action sequence highlights. A bit of a sophomore slump - but not for lack of effort or ambition on the part of Evans and his crew. Let's just hope that The Raid 3 (which apparently will attempt an ambitious midquel story approach) will cut some fat and streamline things back down into a leaner, more focused narrative direction. Given the body count in this chapter, that shouldn't be much of a problem.
The Raid 2 is currently playing in limited release. It expands to wide release soon.
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