The Raid 2: Berandal
The Raid: Redemption was a balletic display of brutal martial arts action; a film structured so perfectly, it felt like poetic verse. Each shot was cut to an infallible action rhythm, with no beat dropped or struck too hard. The bulk of the film’s content was a showcase of intricately designed and impressively executed fight scenes, interspersed with only the most necessary of connective narrative tissues. Story merely serviced action, and writer/director/editor Gareth Huw Evans proved himself a talent at sustaining and breaking tension. It was 90 minutes of simple, yet fully-realised stakes and was exemplary of a stripped back, barebones filmmaking style that elicits far more wonder and excitement than many of its bigger budget contemporaries.
It’s a bold move, then, to shift the series into a style that’s more fully-fledged crime saga than anything else. With The Raid 2: Berandal, Evans has flipped the dynamic, this time using action to service lengthy sections of obfuscated plot. While never hard to follow, Evans’ script is never more than stock-standard crime syndicate power plays; a series of backstabbings (mostly literal), betrayals and brutal murders rendered complex by a fractured chronology. At its most simple: Iko Uwais’ Rama has been sent deep undercover, poised to uproot corruption within the police force. He buddies up with Arifin Putra’s Uco, the ambitious heir to one of the city’s main crime families, and gets caught in the midst of a gang war. While never treading new ground, Evans’ plot is serviceable enough, and his efforts to universalise the story are welcomed.
The action has not been toned down or overlooked. At all. If anything, Evans and Uwais have taken the opportunity to completely blow the lid off their art, spreading the action out across cars, trains, clubs and – again - multi-levelled buildings. All in all there are about 19 fight scenes spattered throughout the 140-minute plus runtime, each brimming with increasingly creative ways to really fuck up the human body. While you may be apprehensive at such a well-worn story at the outset, the film’s first balls-out action scene - a mud and blood-soaked prison riot - is more than reason enough to give the film a chance. Evans and Uwais remain absolute gods at depicting the martial art of silat in all of its gruesome glory. Setups and payoffs (confronting takedowns that often involve ripping out thigh muscles with a shiv, dislocating shoulders, legs and necks, or puncturing craniums with a baseball) are timed perfectly to elicit joyous moans and chuckles from the audience. The tone evokes slasher films in its depiction of violence; where the arterial spray of blood or the sound of a bone popping out of its socket are moments of celebration, rather than disgust. The scope is bigger too. Even in sprawling sequences involving a dozen or more players, Evans manages to root the action in clear stakes and inject it with a similar (if somewhat subdued) urgency as its predecessor.
With The Raid 2, Evans has unleashed his style onto the outside world. The confinements of the first film’s setting have been completely decimated. The experience is expansive; like throwing open the door to an action wonderland. The feeling of being free to roam the streets of Evans’ world is exhilarating. It's a surprisingly beautiful locale, where a young woman can tear 6 guys apart with a hammer on a crowded subway train and get away with it, scot free. It’s certainly the only place where a man can, by my count, take 12 brutal stabbings and still continue to fight valiantly. There isn’t an action world with as much kinetic energy and fun as this. And there’s no director around who’s as creative with the limits of the human body than Evans. Or who can make you clap as riotously at the gruesome sight of a man’s face with a baseball bat stuck in it.