When it was released in 2011, The Raid (or as it was known here in the states, The Raid: Redemption) was an absolute breath of fresh air for action movie fans. Directed by the Welsh-born Gareth Evans, the Indonesian film was 90 minutes of non-stop action. The story of an ill-fated SWAT team sent to raid an apartment complex controlled by a drug lord, the movie introduced the world to the fighting style of silat, a brutal form of hand to hand combat, which seems to focus almost completely on bashing the head and neck. The movie was brutal – yet exhilarating – and a new director, along with his lead (Iko Uwais) were made cult legends.
Now, three years later, The Raid 2 has hit US shores, and last evening, I had the pleasure of taking it in. Weirdly enough, while the US release for the first film added a subtitle, the second film lost its subtitle – Berandal. Berendal in English means thug, and that’s precisely what our hero from the first film, Rama (Uwais) has to become here. Set just moments after the ending of the first film, The Raid 2 places Rama in a unique situation. Having proven that the deadly raid of the first film was caused due to police corruption, he wishes to expose all members of the police force involved in organized crime. Unfortunately for Rama, this requires going deep undercover – entering into prison, and entering himself under a new identity into the massive crime world. This world is built around the tense alliance between two crime families – one of Jakarta, one of Japan – and as you can imagine, things go incredibly wrong. And luckily for us action fans – they go wrong in an incredibly violent way.
Serving as writer, director and editor, Gareth Evans aims high with the second installment of this series. In a jarring comparison to the first film – the movie lasts a whopping two-and-a-half hours, a sprawling crime epic. And in an Icarus like scenario, attempting to fly so high is what burns the film. There are characters upon characters upon characters here – each crime family is incredibly fleshed out, and in all honesty, I had moments where I struggled to recall which character the dialogue was referencing (an issue perhaps enhanced by the fact that I was watching a subtitled print). But even with the greater scripting ambition, the heart of what has made this series so great remains – awe-inspiring action.
With an increased budget ($4.5 Million versus the first film’s $1.1 Million), Evans goes all out, not only shooting his film in some incredibly beautiful locations (a fantastic juxtaposition to the first film’s dank, dark apartment complex fights), but increasing the scale of each battle. From a mud-soaked prison riot to the craziest car chase I’ve ever seen, to an intense, goosebump inducing final one-on-one fight, you will be completely taken in by the set-pieces found here. For however many issues I may have with the plotting, they can easily be ignored for the scope and scale of the action found here. In short, these sequences are epic – in the proper sense of the word, not the bastardized version the Internet gives us these days.
Acting is top-to-bottom solid, but to be honest, not why we’re here. Some veteran actors of Indonesian films give the crime families appropriate gravitas, but the characters that leave the most impact have the film’s smallest amount of dialogue. Look for the brother-sister duo known as “Baseball Bat Man” (Very Tri Yulisman) and “Hammer Girl” (Julie Estelle) to become action movie icons. Also, at this point, if the people who are putting together the major action franchises in Hollywood aren’t bugging Iko Uwais to appear and bash some heads, there’s something very wrong (come on, Fast & Furious franchise).
Aiming high to serve as a massive crime family drama, yet bogged down at times by an iffy script and a too-long run time, The Raid 2 is not as perfect as its predecessor – but it continues to deliver heart-racing action that innovates and redefines what can be done in the world of action film. For this reason alone, it is a must see for fans of action films, martial art films, and massive head and neck trauma. Besides, what does it say if we can’t love a film for it’s ambition? Give it a go before it leaves theaters – or be one of the many to discover it on DVD or VOD.