Topping one of the most jaw-dropping action films in years is an unenviable challenge, but Gareth Evans has done just that with this savage and scintillating follow-up.
Evans announced himself in 2012 with The Raid: Redemption, a down-and-dirty Indonesian action flick that breathed new life not only into martial arts movies but action cinema as a whole.
Action is one of cinema’s most universal genres – its language is that of physicality rather than dialogue, which means foreign language pictures such as The Raid franchise often travel more easily and can find a bigger audience.
At their best, action movies transcend their genre trappings and become ballets of ballistic extreme. The Raid was one such picture, which not only made a name for Evans, but also for its hugely talented star Iko Uwais, who was working as a delivery man when Evans cast him in his cult debut feature Merantau (2009).
The two reunite for The Raid 2: Berandal (“thug” in Indonesian), which expands greatly on the scope of its predecessor and defines itself as an epic in every sense.
The film picks up where The Raid left off, with rookie special forces officer Rama (Uwais) having survived a near-suicidal ambush on a 15-storey tower block in order to take a brutal crime lord into custody. With his family’s lives in danger, he must infiltrate a deadly Jakarta crime syndicate and take down its leaders, as well as the police and politicians in its pocket.
A big reason why The Raid: Redemption worked so well was its confined setting – a single tower block full of bad guys up against Rama and a rag-tag bunch of fellow SWAT officers. From Berendal‘s first crane shot of nasty goings on in a nondescript field out of the city, Evans signals his intentions; the canvas is going to be much bigger this time, although the predominant colour is still going to be red.
The first reel disorientates the viewer by cutting between groups of characters and different time frames, but as the pieces fall into place what emerges is a clever introduction to the world we’re going to inhabit for the next 150 minutes.
Western cinema has long borrowed from the East and vice versa and Evans, a Welsh national living in Indonesia, brings a liberal dose of both styles to The Raid 2.
Uwais channels Bruce Lee’s kick-ass rage and Jackie Chan’s dogged tenacity into his leading man and the imprint of both of these screen legends can be found all over the film. Likewise, the gangland narrative, as unoriginal as it is, brings to mind The Godfather and Beat Takashi; the stylised violence inevitably invites comparisons to John Woo and Sam Peckinpah; while Rama’s infiltration of Bangun’s (Tio Pakusadewo) criminal enterprise nods to Infernal Affairs and its Western remake The Departed.
The Raid stood out from the competition thanks to its eye-popping fight scenes and Berandal ups the ante even further. A massive scrap early on in a muddy prison yard is an early standout and acts as a bone-snapping promise of what’s to come. An epic car chase/fight is masterfully handled, while the final act as Rama battles his way through increasingly bloodthirsty enemies – including the psychopathic ‘Hammer Girl’ (Julie Estelle, whose appearance is straight out of Kill Bill) and ‘Baseball Bat Man’ (Very Tri Yulisman playing the ultimate killer hoodie) – is as good as it gets. Indeed, the climatic duel between Rama and ‘The Assassin’ (Cecep Arif Rahman) is one of the most exhausting and engrossing fight scenes you’ll ever see.
With such a sizeable cast, it would be easy to lose track of certain characters, but Evans keeps the plates spinning and is rewarded with some effective performances from the likes of Yayan Ruhian as a vagabond assassin (which brings to mind Amores Perros‘ vagrant hitman) and Arifin Putra as Bangun’s impetuous son Uco.
Evans has indicated a third and final chapter is on the way and for that we should count ourselves lucky – action movies simply do not come any better than this.