Fans of Gareth Evans’ previous bone crunching, face bashing, knife twisting, Indonesian action masterpiece The Raid will probably adore the fact that the ass kicking stakes have been raised considerably for the sequel. But hopefully they also appreciate the extra added effort to make a sequel that’s actually worth talking about beyond just the action sequences. At a lengthy two and a half hours (just under a full hour longer than the original) there’s definitely some padding, but by the end the much larger world that Evans has created feels like it’s actually building towards something (namely a third film in the planned trilogy).
Picking up almost immediately after the first film, our hero Rama (once again played by Silat master Iko Uwais) has been enlisted by a shadowy undercover branch of the local police department designed to take down the mob and weed out corrupt cops after his heroic efforts in escaping the events of the first film. He’s hesitant at first, but following the murder of the brother he tried so hard to save in the first movie at the hands of an ambitious young thug (played by Alex Abbad), Rama agrees to leave his wife and newborn child behind to go to prison for two full years, build a reputation, and take down the mob from the inside since no one knows his identity as a former rookie cop that was listed as being killed in the previous attack. He’s drawn into the middle of a brewing dispute between the local mob and the Japanese yakuza and a long standing treaty is about to be broken when the son of a Mafioso gets fed up with getting passed over for more important and high profile work.
There’s certainly a lot more plot this time out and kudos to Evans for going the extra mile to actually find a way to credibly make a trilogy out of a single film that was as simple as they come. The Raid 2: Berendal is a very different beast from its predecessor in every way. The story hasn’t just expanded. It has exploded. There’s an interesting kind of Alan Moore kind of comic book vibe being grafted onto Evans’ reworking of classic mob and undercover cop movie tropes. He has no problem setting up various subplots for standalone characters away from the main action (including returning actor and fan favourite from the first film, Yayan Ruhian, no longer playing the deceased Mad Dog, but showing up as a conflicted assassin trying to support his family). Sometimes the asides only exist to show the repercussions arising from a character’s death, which is something the first film in all of its kinetic energy decided to overlook in favour of extra fight sequences. In this film, every character that passes through Rama’s life and work – even if they don’t actually meet together on screen – makes the deep water he finds himself in even choppier. If one of these characters gets hurt or dies, then there is an equal reaction in retaliation.
True, it is a bit much to go from so little plot in the last outing to what might be perceived as an overabundance of plot here, and some viewers who go in just expecting 150 minutes of people beating the shit out of each other might be a bit taken aback. For what it’s worth, the film here feels like it’s leaving a trail of bread crumbs for the upcoming series capper. This is Evans showing that his creativity extends to more than the intricacies of an action sequence, but also towards the building of a greater world, and it’s a further credit that the film never feels as long as the running time suggests it would.
Oh, and yes, the action sequences are as jawdropping and well executed as they were in the previous film, except this time performed in a much larger sandbox. There are plenty of hand to hand flourishes (especially an epically brutal encounter in a restaurant during the film’s grand finale that harkens back to the first film’s strongest points), but also astoundingly photographed prison yard brawls and car chases that take the previous entry’s use of a floating and passed around camera to dizzying heights. The addition of new characters also means a bit more branching out in terms of the style of martial arts being employed, but silat remains front and centre. Then there’s the already buzzed about appearances of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, a pair of badass assassins that do exactly what it says they do on the tin and they do it with style. They’re destined to become cult figures of action cinema.
The Raid 2 might be a very different style of film than the beloved original, but it’s just as much fun. Evans makes the audience earn the fun a bit more this time out, and considering what he’s giving back to the audience, that’s quite generous. It takes a while for his story of a gangland turf war to completely take hold, but once Rama becomes a cog in a much larger machine that he doesn’t quite understand, that’s when the action packed carnage kicks in full throttle. The Raid would have been a very easy film to make twice (and since a US remake is planned, I guess it technically is being done already), but there’s something to be said about trying to do almost anything but the same old thing for a follow up.