If you’ve ever read any of my reviews, you’ve probably realized at least one thing: I really, really love movies. Maybe you’ve also picked up on the fact that I love superhero movies, animated movies, and pretentious, highbrow drama films (yes, I’m very guilty of that).There is one genre that I particularly love, that I may not have gotten into much outside of my reviews of the aforementioned superhero movies, and that is the action movie genre. Now, some of my favorite action films include foreign martial arts movies, such as Ip Man, Drunken Master, Enter the Dragon and Hero. I love martial arts choreography, as it always stuns me that there are actual people who can move that fast and hit that hard. However, these films tend to only have hand-to-hand fighting, and as much as I love that, that’s not the only thing that makes a good action movie. The Matrix showed us that a brilliant action film combines excellent martial arts choreography with intricate set pieces and explosive gunplay. I’ll be the first to admit that the genre hasn’t seen much groundbreaking work since The Matrix, though. That is, until director Gareth Evans burst onto the scene in 2011 with the Indonesian film The Raid: Redemption. Here was a film that had some of the most inventive and exhilarating action and fight scenes that anyone had seen in a long time. With genre aficionados’ hopes sky high, does The Raid 2: Berandal live up to its predecessor? The answer is a resounding yes.
The Raid 2 picks up mere hours after the events of the first film. Rookie SWAT member Rama is a battered man after his ordeal taking down a drug lord in an attempt to rescue his brother from a life of crime in the first film. He wants out, but it isn’t long before the head of a special police task force approaches him. This man wants to send him undercover to expose police corruption in relation to Jakarta’s two biggest crime families. Their plan? To arrest him and send him to jail, where they intend him to get close to and become friends with the son of the head of one of the crime families. Rama initially refuses, but once it is revealed that the brother he had tried to save just hours ago has already been executed by a man related to one of the families, he accepts his fate and agrees to be retrained as an undercover policeman. Thus begin some of the most harrowing years of this young policeman’s life.
Iko Uwais returns as protagonist Rama, and he continues to prove that he must be one of the foremost martial artists in the world. While Rama’s relationship with his brother provided a small amount of heart to the first film, Uwais is given much weightier material. This time we see Rama struggle as he tries to balance his desire for revenge and justice with his own fears and insecurities; Uwais’s expression when he calls his wife just to hear the sound of his young son is heartbreaking. Indeed, Uwais brings more depth to his role here, and gives the audience more reason to root for Rama beyond the fact that he is an undeniably brilliant fighter. Uwais’s fight scenes are simply some of the fastest, most brutal martial arts demonstrations I have ever seen on film. Silat, the martial art shown in the film, is a deadly, predatory, bone-crushing offensive style that has to be seen to be believed. Uwais also serves as one of the primary choreographers of the entire film, and the fights he sets up are stunning. More than anything, though, simply watching Uwais in motion is reason enough to see this film.
The film has a fairly large, sprawling cast, but there are a few standouts apart from the lead. Arifin Putra conducts himself very well as Uco, the only son of Bangun, the head of one of Jakarta’s largest and most successful crime families. Uco is a powder keg, constantly trying to live up to the impossible standards of his father, while struggling to cope with the fact that his father still doesn’t trust him with any serious responsibilities. His arc is the centerpiece of the film’s plot, and without Putra’s solid acting much of the film would not have worked at all. Also of note is frequent Evans-collaborator and co-choreographer Yayan Ruhian. Ruhian is easily one of the most accomplished martial artists in the film, aside from Uwais himself, and fans will remember him as the actor who portrayed Mad Dog in the first Raid film. He plays a different character in this film, one close to Uco whose fate in the film is a turning point for Uco’s character.
Gareth Evans, mastermind of The Raid: Redemption, returns as director, writer, and editor of this sequel. After the release of the first film, Evans was hailed as one of the foremost action directors in the world. With this sequel, he cements himself as quite possibly the best action director in the world. His mastery of creating visually stunning action scenes that utilize gorgeous and inventive cinematography is second to none. Early scenes in the film that have cameras following fighters through walls and windows are exhilarating, and make the viewer feel exceptionally close to what is happening on screen. He captures and frames the impeccably choreographed hand-to-hand fight scenes with a beauty that belies their inherent violence; indeed, the fights Evans directs are almost balletic in their execution. Meanwhile, his ability to generate palpable tension in the calm preceding the action scenes lends to the thrill and evocativeness of the scenes themselves. Finally, Evans’s editing work was initially all over the place at the beginning of the film, with its deluge of fast moving and hyperkinetic scenes. However, as the film progressed and the fights entered larger spaces and one-on-one territory, his editing work resembled the smooth, sharp, easy to follow work of his previous film.
The Raid: Redemption was an excellent action film, but its script left something to be desired. Between a loose plot and roughshod dialogue, writing was the main critique of the first film. The Raid 2 exorcises these qualms with a larger, more ambitious film that tells a crime thriller story about two Jakartan crime families, and a newer, smaller organization with its own ambition of leaving a mark on the city. Character development and plotting both see a notable uptick in quality, while dialogue sees a slight improvement. The main issue with the writing is that it was occasionally difficult to follow the main plot, as things became muddled with the introduction of many plot threads, all in need of resolution by the end of the film. Depending on your tastes, pacing could also have been seen as an issue. I didn’t have a problem with the film’s two and a half hour runtime thanks to the sheer riches of energetic action on display throughout, but there are definitely some viewers that would bemoan any film this drawn out.
As mentioned above, cinematography in The Raid 2 is great. Quieter scenes are beautiful and well shot, while action scenes are clearly filmed, sometimes with the camera being placed in very interesting and innovative positions that will keep your eyes glued to the screen and your jaw glued to the floor. Meanwhile, music also saw a serious improvement in this film. While I can’t say the original Raid’s score made any sort of impact on me when I watched the film, I was constantly noting how pulse-pounding and epic the score was for this sequel. Who knows, it might even become my new study music flavor of the week.
With The Raid: Redemption, director Evans and star Uwais gave the action film genre a shot of adrenaline to the arm. With the sequel, Evans and Uwais bypass your arm entirely and go straight for the heart, Pulp Fiction style. This movie is everything the first film was, but bigger, better, more inventive, and more ambitious. In fact, it is probably even one of the better sequels that I have seen in a long time; The Raid 2 is The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II of what will hopefully be a Raid trilogy. Storytelling and potential length issues aside, action fans have to watch this film. Trust me, you can thank me later.