The Raid was an atonement. Filmmaker Gareth Evans restored the action/martial arts genre to glory after Hollywood transformed action flicks into a toothless tiger (I still blame The Fast and the Furious franchise and the steady decline of Detective John McClane in cinema). The tower assault concept for The Raid was simple, the fists were furious and the fridges were deadly. Super cop Rama (Iko Uwais) is back in The Raid 2: Berandal, but instead of fighting his way up an apartment block, he’s swivel kicking his way through the hierarchy of crime families. The larger scope of the sequel allows for Evans to flesh out the narrative, but too many chatty gangsters almost cripple the momentum between incredible action sequences that certify Evans' ascension to a supreme action cinema maestro.
Picking up directly after The Raid ends, Rama is tasked by an anti-police corruption unit to go undercover, infiltrate a group of gangsters and find the shady cops. After a brutal stint in prison Rama finds himself caught between two mob families on the brink of warfare.
All ‘top 10’ best-of lists for fight scenes, car chases and assassins will have to updated to align with Evans' latest creations. A muddy prison riot early in the film is absolutely brutal and gripping in execution as well as fight in a toilet cubicle that defies the laws of physics for so much awesomeness to be unleashed in a tight space. A few of the fight scenes feel a little ‘same-same’ as you notice fight choreography repeating, but Evans manages to provide enough variety in the execution to ensure each sequence heightens the escalation of the narrative.
Nothing personifies the growing intensity more than the mind blowing car chase in the second half of the film that combines martial arts and automobiles in magnificent union. Evans puts every action director working today on notice as he swings cameras inside cars in the mist of Rama's lightning blows and a rain of bullets. The Raid 2: Berandal keeps getting bigger, bolder and bloodier in the lead up to an epic finale that embodies Rama’s vengeance. Rama’s adversaries take on creative ways of dispatching people with Evans’ introducing Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman). The duo are sadistic versions of Bond henchmen, especially when Baseball Bat Man starts hurtling baseballs into people’s faces (yes, baseballs). They are two more of Evans' twisted creations imbued with a dark sense of humour. Everyone involved in crafting the action scenes in The Raid 2: Berandal deserve a standing ovation, a Mexican wave and a parade in their honour.
The punchy element of The Raid 2: Berandal is strong but the weaknesses exist in the plotting and dialogue department. Evans tries to expand the corrupt world established in the first film but it becomes a long list of characters that are all interconnected, yet they make the story convoluted as the sub-plots pile up. The conversation breaks provide a good chance to catch your breath between the brawls but none of the interactions carry any weight outside of establishing the grudges.
Uwais is an incredible fighter and his performance is just as fearsome. Uwais is often hunched over, keeping his head down as not to attract attention, but when he lifts his body to face the camera you can tell enough is enough. It feels like the spirit Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey, Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan and Bruce Lee’s Chen Zhen lives inside Uwais, and this film solidifies him as one of great action leads. In support Oka Antara is great as a gangster looking out for Rama, and Arifin Putra is perfectly cast as a spoilt heir to a crime family empire frustrated by always being underestimated by his father. A few familiar faces from The Raid appear in different roles with the highlight being Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog from the first one) who shows up as a machete carrying hitman in an intense slasher film inspired sequence. Keeping the Bond theme going is Alex Abbad who is excellent as the cane carrying puppet master to the film’s central conflict.
A little of the spark from The Raid is missing in The Raid 2: Berandal but Evans’ artistry as an action director is undeniable. Evans, Uwais and Indonesia are the new centre of the arse kicking universe.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW