SXSW Film Review – The Raid 2: Berandal
The Raid 2: Berandal
Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption (2011) was an exhilarating action thriller. Set within an apartment complex in Jakarta, we watched police officer Rama (Iko Uwais) fight his way through gangsters and drug dealers with non-stop ferocity. It reset the standard for how far action pictures can go with its violence and mayhem. I listed it as one of the best films to come out in its given year. Evans returns with the sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal (2014). This time, he ups the ante in every facet – opening the world with more characters, a deeper plot, and action that attempts to surpass the original film. But does the increased ambition make it better?
(Warning: this review assumes you have seen the first film)
While Redemption delivered in terms of excitement, some faulted it for having a paper-thin plot. Those who wanted a developed story will get it and more with Berandal. Clocking in at a whopping 148 minutes, Evans stuffs the screenplay with more plot and an assortment of new faces. The pacing – which was vital in the success of the first film – slows down considerably in this installment. We pick up immediately after the events of Redemption, with Rama narrowly escaping the tenement with his life. Although Rama thinks he made it out of danger, the ruckus he caused caught the attention of criminals higher up the food chain. When the repercussions affect Rama in a personal way, he has no choice but to enter the underworld once again, this time as an undercover agent.
In moving the story outside of a confined space into the city, Evans has a wider canvas to develop his directorial skills. His eye for camera placement and frame composition is noticeably improved here. The slower pace allows him to compose a number of beautiful shots. He creates a dingy, rugged backdrop with splashes of striking color (mostly red) as an accent. This is a better looking film than the first. Evans does not have to deal with filming within tight hallways anymore, and that’s a good thing.
The screenplay (also by Evans) has a wider scope. Everything feels bigger. There are benefits to this, but it also makes the story looser. The airtight structure of Redemption is no longer present, and the dynamics between the new characters gets muddied as Evans tries to fit them all into a whole. Working undercover as a criminal named “Yuda,” Rama first enters prison and gains the allegiance of fellow inmate Uco (Arifin Putra). Uco is the son of crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), who we learn is embroiled in a turf war with the Japanese boss Goto (Ken’ichi Endo). Rama not only has to weave his way between these two warring factions, but also maneuver around a group of assassins with ties to the criminals of the first film, as well as the corrupt police department looking to take him out. Needless to say: Rama has his hands full.
If Redemption is comparable to Die Hard (1998), then Berandal is comparable to The Godfather (1972). As Rama moves up the chain of command, he gets further entangled with Uco and Bangun’s group. Evans takes a large chunk of time working through the intricacies of three to four different crime syndicates. In fact, there are long stretches where Rama is not even present, where we follow certain gangsters as tensions begin to mount. This is the film’s biggest issue. Iko Uwais has a strong presence – everything has more rhythm and forward momentum when he is dictating the screen. Rama’s attempt to take down crime while being undercover is easily the most suspenseful story arc here. Whenever we follow another character – which happens a lot – the pacing down shifts to a crawl.
But let’s forget about all that. You’re here to read about the action, right? In this, Evans does not disappoint. Creating action scenes are his specialty, and he once again delivers. Yes, the fight scenes and shootouts are bloody to cartoonish levels, but there is no denying the creativity of them. How do these stunt men accomplish these feats without being seriously injured? The action builds to a crescendo, increasing in intensity until they end on a violent exclamation point. There are some great set pieces here. One character will have me looking at hammers in a completely different way, while another uses a baseball and metal bat in hilarious fashion. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that a certain scene – taking place in a kitchen – will go down as one of the best fight scenes in a long while, rivaling (and perhaps eclipsing) the climatic battle of the first film.
The plot may not gel together in a completely cohesive way, but the action alone makes The Raid 2: Berandal worth the price of admission. When Evans does what he does best, it works. He attempts to transcend the action genre, and despite not hitting every mark he’s aiming for, the fact he’s shooting for something grander shows a filmmaker not settling for the status quo.