Sony Pictures Classics
There was a bare and efficient kind of storytelling in 2011's The Raid: Redemption. The film told a simple story of man vs. building, as series hero Rama (Iko Uwais) steadily progressed through a tower of terror, floor by floor and fight by fight, with just the flimsiest thread of a plot stitching all of the action together. It wasn’t an intricate weave of a story, but one sewn for efficiency - and it was damn effective, even if it could all unravel with the slightest bit of mental tugging. The Raid was a lean and mean action thriller that got right to the brutal business of fighting, and that’s part of the reason why it's sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal doesn’t thrill quite as consistently as its predecessor. This one actually has a story it has to tell beyond “Hey Rama, go into this tower and don't die,” and it doesn't measure up to the graceful carnage of the fight scenes.
This time around, Rama gets caught in the middle of two rival crime bosses who have carved up Jakarta with a meat cleaver; sneering Bangun controls one part of the city, while a set of Japanese gangsters controls another. It's an over stuffed powder keg full of posturing gangsters and assassins, and all it takes are a couple of sparks from both sides set things ablaze. The Raid 2 is markedly more ambitious film than the first, and that’s both a gift and a curse. The film postures itself as a sprawling crime epic, liberally plucking from some of the most celebrated crime films of all time, and at times, the story works well enough. This one does feel decidedly bigger in scope, and towards the end of the film it seems like Rama won’t get a rest until he’s managed to roundhouse kick the entire country of Indonesia.
But because of this ambition, the film starts to sag under all the extra weight. The mobster story has a fresh sheen of Indonesian style, but it’s still a generic pastiche of tired mob tropes - you’ve seen it all before, and you'll see it all again. While the story of the first Raid was more of an afterthought, here it’s treated as almost the main attraction. Whole minutes pass by without Rama pulping someone's innards into mashed potatoes, as the story spends precious time constructing a tapestry of mob alliances and betrayal, and at 148 minutes, the film slightly overstays its welcome (especially compared to the first film’s snappy 101 minutes).
Sony Picture Classics
Truly, the film is at its best when it's moving, and when it's introducing gleefully absurd killers like "Hammer Girl" (Julie Estelle) and "Baseball Bat Man" (Very Tri Yulisman). There's a deep black humor running through Berandal and watching the duo of assassins using everyday household items to dispatch their enemies is a sadistic pleasure. But like its predecessor, the film isn't about soulless bloodletting. The best fight scenes are like a intricate dance of body blows and bone breaking kicks, shot in long cuts that put the shaky cam and hyperactive editing of other movie fight scenes to shame. Also, some of the effects shots are truly horrifying. It's all a marvel to behold and cringe at.
Unfortunately, even extreme violence hits a point of diminishing returns, and Berandal is just too long, which make some of the action scenes jammed into the middle of the film feel like a forgettable wash of violent white noise. But just when I thought I was tired of Bernadal, the last 40 minutes unfold in a marvelous showpiece of action choreography that features a revolving door of opponents for Rama to face, and it's when the film is singularly focused on providing bone crunching carnage at a rapid pace is that the film works best. And it’s no small coincidence that the best part of the film is the section that most closely resembles the first Raid: a base under siege sequence, except Rama is the monster. It feels like Evans and Co. saved their best fight choreography for last third of the film, and from then on, it's nothing short of epic.
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The Raid 2: Berandal is missing the streamlined charm of the original, but that's a small complaint in a largely fantastic experience. When it works - which is an overwhelming majority of the time - The Raid 2 is marvelous, a celebration of gore and grace that will leave the genre fan dizzy with glee, and everyone else frantically searching for a sick bag. It's an audacious, brassy, and exhilarating sequel to The Raid. It doesn’t tell as great as a story as it wants to, but this is a movie that reaches for the stars, and comes up short by just a few precious inches.
We previously caught The Raid: Redemption at this year's Sundance Film Festival. You can watch our video blog here
After experiencing The Raid: Redemption the definition of modern action movies is up for debate. Suddenly classifying blockbusters that routinely fill our summers—big superhero clobberfests end-of-the-world scenarios and other spectacles of epic proportions—feels wrong. Sure they have action—but nothing on par with what director Gareth Evans (the Wales-born man behind Merantau) in his martial arts extravaganza choreographed with unimaginable precision and shot with just as much finesse. The Raid squares its fights into a compact apartment high-rise forcing the fisticuffs to be intimate and brutal. It is ballet with bloodshed more jaw-dropping than any large-scale battle.
The Indonesian-language film follows Rama (Iko Uwais) a rookie S.W.A.T. team member recruited for an infiltration mission against one of Jakarta's deadliest mobsters Tama Riyadi. Tama resides at the top of a dilapidated high rise home to a few tenants and a boatload of mercenaries ready to protect their head honcho. When Rama and his squad arrive to take out Tama they're quickly discovered flipping their mission from attack to survival.
Like its spiritual predecessor Die Hard The Raid peppers its scenario with familiarities that keep us afloat during its non-stop action: Rama's a noble guy who stands up for what's right; Tama shoots the thugs who wrong him through the forehead; the S.W.A.T. crew have just enough personality so that we care when some of them fall to hands of Tama's goons; and the script twists and turns along the road aways traveled by. The Raid operates like a video game Rama traveling upward crushing baddie after baddie as he passes each level eventually confronting the final boss.
The concept wouldn't work without the action to match but Evans' fight scenes (designed by Uwais co-star Yayan Ruhian) are sculpted of pure adrenaline—and the ride doesn't stop until The Raid's final minutes (when exhaling is necessary for physical safety). Rama slaps punches kicks twists and wrestles his opponents occasionally picking up a broken shard of door or a discarded pistol (loaded or unloaded doesn't matter) to aid in his mano a mano battle. The movie doesn't skimp on blood Evans embracing the numerous moments where bad guys are thrown viciously down the shabby building's unkept corridors into sharp objects. Audience gasps and exclamations are The Raid's fuel and like Rama's own ascension the film continues to top itself fight after fight after fight after fight.
With blood continually pumping through its veins The Raid becomes a tad tiresome by the hour and a half mark (the film runs 101 minutes) but the artistry behind the film Evans' evocative camera work (that's almost comparable to Wim Wenders' experimental dance film Pina) the electronic score from composer Joe Trapenese (Tron Legacy) and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and Uwais physically-inspiring star turn help the movie redefine action. There's a reason Sony snatched the movie up so quickly at the Toronto Film Festival—The Raid: Redemption may be a foreign film an under-the-radar indie picture by Hollywood comparisons but it speaks a singular language everyone can understand: butt-kicking.