Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Gareth Evans
Stars: Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsayah, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Very Tri Yulisman.
Expatriate Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans now calls Indonesia home. It was here that he first learnt about pencak silat, a brutal form of martial arts that he has introduced to western audiences in his films. His game changing 2011 action film The Raid was a claustrophobic and extremely violent saga that set the bar high for future action films. The action was largely confined to the interior of a decrepit high rise apartment block, as an outnumbered squad of SWAT cops had to fight their way through a mob of heavily armed and dangerous foes floor by floor. It had the feel of a violent video game at times as it moved from one level of destruction to another.
Now comes the obligatory sequel, which takes place mere hours after the events of The Raid. Rather than merely repeat the formula Evans opens the action out further this time, but the film suffers slightly for this decision to move the action onto a wider canvas. The Raid 2: Berandal was apparently conceived before The Raid, but due to difficulties in raising the budget, Evans shot that film first and then rejigged his original script to transform it into this sequel.
The only survivors of that deadly raid were Rama (played by martial arts expert Iko Uwais), the rookie cop, and his brother Andi (Donny Alamsayah). But no sooner has the dust settled on the aftermath of the raid than Rama is sent on another dangerous mission. He is sent undercover inside a notorious Jakarta prison, charged with getting close to Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), a powerful underworld figure who has ties to corrupt cops and politicians. Rama manages to side with Ucok during a brutal and violent but superbly staged fight in a muddy prison yard, and earns his gratitude.
After being released from prison, Rama lands a job working for Ucok’s father. But there are double crosses and deadly power struggles aplenty in this sweeping saga that has aspirations of becoming an Asian Godfather or Goodfellas. Rama gets caught up in a bloody power struggle between two crime families. And seizing an opportunity, the ambitious gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) starts a gang war between the two families, and the body count steadily rises.
He and his cinematographer Matt Flannery certainly know how to stage and shoot some amazing, jaw dropping and exhilarating action sequences, including a brutal fight on a subway train, a smackdown in a kitchen, and the aforementioned chaotic prison yard brawl. Obviously Indonesia doesn’t have the same safety rules as Hollywood when it comes to staging visceral, highly kinetic, and extremely brutal free for all fight sequences. The fight scenes are filmed in long fluid takes as opposed to the kinetic, frenetic editing of most Hollywood films that actually takes audiences out of the realism. The choreography is frenetic, and Evans and Uwais apparently worked with the actors for over a year to prepare for these scenes.
There are a couple of original villains introduced though, including a the brother and sister team of assassins – the girl (Julie Estelle) uses claw hammers to attack her opponents while her brother (Very Tri Yulisman) cleverly uses a baseball bat to dispatch his enemies.
Evans stakes his claim as one of the best and most creative directors of action working in movies today. The brutal violence, the relentless pacing, the bone crunching mayhem, carnage and bloodletting on display here makes the likes of John Woo, Tarantino and Takeshi Miike seem like wimps by comparison. There is also a spectacular car chase sequence through city traffic that is stunning to watch, and it seems to have been staged without any computer generated visuals or obvious stunt men.
Evans certainly has ambitions with this sequel and he ups the ante in terms of both the action and the story. And the opening shot in a field is similar to some of Scorsese’s work. But at 150 minutes the film is too long and it becomes exhausting to sit through by the end. Unfortunately some of the dialogue is preposterous and wooden, and this is clearly not one of Evans’ strengths. The plot is also unoriginal as it has been the staple of many gangster films from Hollywood, a probably is little too complex for the average action movie/martial arts fan. And many of the characters are ciphers, indistinguishable from one another.
But these are minor quibbles, and most hard core action fans will not care about them. The Raid 2 certainly delivers in terms of action and plenty of spectacular, bloody and brutal violence, and Evans has again successfully raised the bar for any director brave enough to follow him.