In my review of 2011’s The Raid: Redemption, I discussed its opening shot, a close-up on a gun and watch, heralded the film’s violence and clockwork tautness. Gareth Evans’ sequel to his modern action classic opens on a long shot of a field of crops, grey-tinged by a sullen sky and lacerated by paths twisting through the forbidding vegetation. This opening shot signals the film’s expansion from its predecessor: both physically and narratively, spreading its scope beyond one building to examine the complicated interactions between the crime gangs that run Jakarta, with underlying tensions and betrayals as difficult to navigate as the paths coiling through those fields.
The Raid 2: Berandal is a distinct departure from Redemption. Aside from protagonist Rama (Iko Uwais) and its frequent, immaculately choreographed and brutally/beautifully filmed action scenes, it’s barely a sequel, going out of its way to severe any ties between the two films. The police corruption storyline that dominated the last half of the first film serves as the impetus for Rama venturing into prison (at which point the film suggests it might be a carbon copy of the original, right down to the confined setting and never-ending hordes of fighters, before vaulting two years into the future) to become buddies with a crime lord’s son. But the corruption storyline feels incidental to the main thrust of the narrative; I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a Die Hard with a Vengeance-type situation, where an unrelated script was retrofitted into a sequel to The Raid after its success.
The Raid 2 is defined by excess, not efficiency. Where The Raid was succinct, its sequel sprawls; it runs for two-and-a-half hours, alternately chronicling the minutiae of Jakarta’s crime organisations or unleashing ultraviolence across that time. The details of the narrative are intricately realised, comprehensively detailed and utterly conventional; if you’ve seen any crime thriller where a cop goes undercover, you won’t be surprised by the twists and turns of the story.
The first half of the film is coiled and constricted like a viper ready to strike, executed with panache and imbued with a sense of dread reminiscent of Only God Forgives (an easy analogy to make, given that Evans shares Refn’s fondness for precise framing, operatic emotion and rich colours). The execution is admirable but it sprawls too far; the need to establish every detail of the crime families squabbling to command the city means that the action scenes often come across as perfunctory punctuation. As you’d expect, the fights are technically amazing, but when even the protagonist seems not to care about the outcome they tend towards monotony.
The last half –the viper’s strike – as all the backstory and resentment are unleashed in a glorious barrage of brutality is exhilarating, thankfully. The grim seriousness of the first half is punctured by some welcome – though very, very dark – humour. The inclusion of characters like “Hammer Girl” (Julie Estelle) and “Baseball Bat Man” (Very Tri Yulisman) indicate that Evans is cognisant of the inherent cartoonishness of his violence, even if the depiction of said violence – all shattered bones and ragged skull cavities and severed tendons – is a long way from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The film’s grim sense of humour is combined with a sense of equally grim exuberance, with the last half hurtling along through one of the best car chase scenes I’ve seen in years, followed by a videogame-inspired battle through the bad guy’s sumptuous headquarters.
I commend Evans for trying something different with this sequel; it’s nothing if not ambitious. The film’s ambition might blunt the action sequences through ubiquity and a bloated, clichéd storyline, but it pays dividends in those heady final minutes which exceed anything found in The Raid. Recommended viewing; if for no other reason than you’re unlikely to see an action film this well filmed and choreographed again anytime soon.