THE RAID 2: BERENDAL Expands On The Original, Sacrifices Tightness For A New Scope

There is a car chase in The Raid 2.

And this car chase. This car chase. It draws a line in the sand for action films suggesting we’re now living in the Gareth Evans era. From the moment of this chase and on until the final title card, The Raid 2 is a non-stop escalation of kinetic violence the likes of which we haven’t seen since top-of-his-game John Woo. And before that car chase? Evans tries his hand at a bit of an Indonesian Johnnie To crime epic, which also largely succeeds at further expanding and amping up the tight and tiny world created in the first film.

So yes, I’m obviously pretty in love with The Raid 2. And you’ll read plenty of flawless reviews of The Raid 2, but I want to be totally honest with mine: at least upon first viewing, I’m going to be that guy still thinks The Raid is a better film. Granted, I’ve seen that movie probably 6 or 7 times over the past couple of years and I never revisit films that frequently. The Raid is that movie I’ve just HAD to show friends as some kind of gospel-spreading mission. And The Raid 2 is a wonderful follow up. I just can’t help but feel like in the necessary process of expanding and updating for the sequel, some of the refreshing tightness and claustrophobia of the first film is lost. Granted, it is replaced with a world so expanded that it feels like The Raid 3 could simply go anywhere, and that is unbelievably thrilling.

Like many of the Johnnie To films I’ve seen to date, I couldn’t help but have a little bit of trouble following who all the various crime lords are in this twisting tale of robbers and cops. As we begin the film immediately after the events of the first film end, Rama (Iko Uwais) is taken under the wing of a small unit in the police force tasked solely with bringing down corrupt cops. They convince him that his takedown of the fortress-like drug den of the first movie has only painted a target on his own back and his families, and that the only way he can truly protect himself is to disappear and go undercover to infiltrate the Indonesian gang which shares control of Jakarta with a Japanese family. Rama specifically befriends Ucok (Arafin Putra), the son of the Indonesian crime boss, in order to join the ranks of his family. There is an incredible bit of a prologue to the main events of the movie which takes place in an Indonesian prison featuring a couple of visually stunning prison fights, one in a single stall of a bathroom to kick things off, and the next in a muddy prison yard that might very well be the messiest and most visually distinctive battle I’ve ever seen. But after that the giant fight set pieces take a bit of a breather, and even more criminal factions of Jakarta begin moving their chess pieces.

Besides the Indonesian gang there is also a Japanese family, and also a third party player angling for ascendancy. So you have Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo) and his regicidal son, the aforementioned Ucok, heading up the Indonesian family. Then you’ve got Goto (Kenichi Endo) and his Japanese clan which has lived entirely in peace with Bangun for ten years. The peace is solid and the two heads of family meet regularly and share a friendship. But when a third party, the part-Arab Bejo (Alex Abbad) and his gang try to exploit Ucok’s ambition, all the pieces are in place for an implosion of the Jakartan underworld. And our friend Rama is right in the center of it all, in over his head but rising to the occasion as only this particular character can.

Did you follow all of that? It asks a lot of the audience to follow this many gangs, this many names, and all the various connections and bad blood that flows between them all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking a lot of your audience, and I believe the sprawling tale is told with a deft storytelling hand. It’ll just take a few viewings to cement it all in my mind and I’m more than willing to give this film those repeat viewings it calls for. As a matter of fact, it may be possible for The Raid 2 to surpass The Raid in my estimation after several viewings, but I’m just telling it to you straight as I currently feel it.

As I mentioned early on, the To-style gang posturing gives way to a nail-biting third act that is much more reminiscent of the Raid we’ve come to know and love. And I’m even willing to suggest that all the chess board maneuvering of the first two acts serves to wind up Rama tighter and tighter, placing every game piece in just the right position for a completely gonzo end game that Rama will inflict on anyone and everyone who would get in his way.

Another strength of the more sprawling narrative is that we are introduced to some more colorful characters who do get a chance to distinguish themselves in that classic action film way, such as Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl and The Assassin, all of whom we cheer for as they wantonly murder and muck their way through various targets in opposing gangs until Rama gets a shot at them.

Rama, by the way, also benefits from this expanded tale. Or at least actor Iko Uwais does. His performance in the first film cemented his infamy in the action lexicon. Uwais, in one film, earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Tony Jaa or Donnie Yen. Here in The Raid 2, he is given a chance to act a lot more, and I was honestly riveted. The guy has a bit of a baby face and though he never smiles in these movies… his real smile can light up a room. Uwais has an “aw shucks” goodness to him. But Rama goes to terribly dark places in Raid 2 and Uwais’ performing chops rise to the occasion even as his fighting skills continued to illicit literally dozens of audience screams throughout.

Gareth Evans wrote, directed, and edited The Raid 2. He says that they had about quadruple the budget for this outing, and that is to say they had somewhere in the range of $4 million dollars. With those previous two sentences being true, I’m willing to call Evans a genius, as well as a potential messianic figure to the action movie industry world wide. If a Welsh guy can move to Indonesia and crank out a few action films for $4 million dollars a pop that literally shake the pillars of heaven with their brazen violence and stunning film craft, then who is to say that this team won’t have a shot at completely revitalizing the action film industry the world over? America is taking notice of these movies and this action fan would love to see a full resurgence R-rated action-crime tales getting the greenlight. I’ll follow that guy wherever he wants to take me from here on out.

So yes, The Raid 2 is a watershed action movie taking inspiration from Johnnie To to John Woo and giving it all an Indonesian flavor. Fans of the original have a treat ahead of them, and the squeamish have a new film to avoid at all costs as this might be the single most violent movie I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot). While many are crying “masterpiece”, I need a little more time before I could ascribe it that status. Even though I genuinely enjoyed myself throughout, I couldn’t help but feel that the film could have been a fair bit shorter and simultaneously a fair bit more clear as to what all was going on. I know that festival exhaustion at a midnight screening could have contributed to that, and I also believe that the filmmakers simply assume this will be a repeat viewing experience for most fans. And I’m okay with that, because it will be. I just feel that the tightness of The Raid was so perfect that I left that experience with no qualms whatsoever and I’ll need the sprawling Raid 2 to grow on me a little.

And I’m Out.

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