Berandal | The Raid 2 (2014)
It’s an exhilarating feeling that cannot be put into words when something you’ve been anticipating for a long time manages to exceed all your sky-high expectations with effortless ease by delivering much more than what you asked for & in the end leaves you in a euphoric state of pure bliss. And something exactly like that happened this year when director Gareth Evans, who just a couple of years ago infused new life into the action genre with his breakthrough feature that brimmed with fresh, relentless & genre-defining action sequences from start to finish and ended up earning unanimous praise & deep respect from legions of action film lovers, finally unleashed his follow-up sequel to The Raid (also known as The Raid: Redemption) which has been labelled by many as the best action film to come out in recent memory.
After coming across the Indonesian martial arts Pencak Silat while working on a documentary, Gareth Evans’ life changed completely when he decided to give this art form a worldwide exposure through cinema. And what sealed his intention was the discovery of a capable actor in martial-artist Iko Uwais, who impressed Evans with his natural charisma & great camera presence. Soon, Merantau was born as their first collaboration & eventually became a cult hit. Berandal was then supposed to follow as the director’s next project but when insufficient budget made its production too difficult to continue, Evans worked out a low-budget story & that’s how The Raid came into existence. And after its remarkable success, this highly ambitious project by Evans was slightly modified to connect with the previous film & serve as its sequel.
While The Raid was considered thin on drama by few & relied on its stupefying action to make itself work, The Raid 2 (also known as Berandal or The Raid 2: Berandal) takes a step back from the continuous action mayhem to add more plausibility to its plot but once all the pieces are set, it unleashes such an explosive level of action extravaganza that it’ll leave most viewers gasping for breath. Taking place two hours after the events of the first film, The Raid 2 continues the quest of Rama as he goes undercover to enter the criminal underworld in order to weed out more corrupt cops & politicians. The story then jumps two years ahead where we see Rama making a steady rise through the hierarchy of Jakarta’s most powerful crime syndicate. But when the peace between the underworlds of Indonesia & Japan is disturbed by a new player in town, it sets in motion a chain of events that forces Rama to take them all out once & for all.
Gareth Evans could’ve easily chosen the same route that worked so well in the original but it’s good to see that he has greater ambitions as The Raid 2 presents this director expanding on the premise of the first film, adding the complexity of mob flicks into its plot & taking the benchmark action of its predecessor to a new level. And even though he falls short of making the drama work in perfect harmony with its action spectacle, he nonetheless cements his status as the best action filmmaker working today. The dramatic portions in the first half do feel like fillers between the fight segments or vice-versa but once we enter the final hour, Evans welcomes us with an expertly orchestrated dance of death as one spectacular sequence after another follows, each surpassing the action preceding it, and eventually culminates with total massacre splattered all over the screen.
Coming to the screenplay, also written by Gareth Evans, the script is full of nods to the gangster classics of the past and while the story in itself is pretty generic & adds nothing new to the genre of crime, the characters are nicely scripted & brilliantly imagined. The production design moves away from the inhospitable look of the last film and comes up with set pieces that offer a wide range of diversity this time around. Cinematography shows significant improvement over its predecessor & makes excellent use of the camera angles, focus shots, unbroken single takes or wide-angle captures in closed spaces. Even the handheld shots are carried out in an extremely efficient manner & I’ve nothing but praise for the camerawork displayed here. However, I can’t say the same about its editing as the 150 minutes of runtime is very much felt if all you are looking for is the action.
The music department brings the two different composers of the previous film under one roof for this sequel but it unfortunately isn’t as impressive as the soundtrack of The Raid, i.e. the version composed by Mike Shinoda & Joseph Trapanese. Shinoda didn’t return this time which could explain the absence of familiar themes & missing connection with its predecessor as the entire score is recomposed from scratch. Still, for the majority of its runtime, it works very well & is absolutely perfect where it mattered most. Also, the action depicted in the film exhibits a slightly different technique when compared to the original as this one blends martial arts with reckless street fighting yet there is no loss in quality as the featured action is nothing short of breathtaking. Gareth Evans is the real master here since every single high-octane moment is his brainchild & the action choreographers have done a fabulous job in bringing those ideas to life.
And now, the performances. Compared to the handful of characters present in the last chapter, The Raid 2 features a quite a list of diverse characters this time played by an equally interesting cast. And despite the wide array of personas it tries to cram into its 2.5 hours of runtime, the film manages to introduce each one of them properly & gives them the screen time they deserve without deviating much from the main story. Iko Uwais has come a long way from the baby-faced Yuda he was in Merantau to the ass-kicking Yuda he plays in this chapter. Uwais reprises his role of Rama; the rookie SWAT unit member who takes over the new identity of Yuda to get into the world of crime, & although he may still be on the learning curve when it comes to pulling off the emotions convincingly, there’s simply no denying that he’s in an entirely different league during the action sequences & makes them work flawlessly not just by his skilled martial arts but charismatic screen presence as well.
Donny Alamsyah also reprises his role of Andi; Rama’s brother, but is killed off within the film’s opening minutes. Yayan Ruhian, who left a huge impression as Mad Dog in the last chapter, also returns but in an entirely different role this time. He plays Prakoso; Bangun’s most loyal & dedicated assassin. And even though Gareth Evans tries a half-hearted attempt to give this character a sympathetic dimension, what impressed me most is one symbolic scene where it felt like the baton was passed from Mad Dog to The Assassin, about whom I’ll talk soon. Tio Pakusadewo plays Bangun; Jakarta’s most feared mob boss. Arifin Putra is in as Bangun’s son, Uco, who’s too desperate to prove his worth & desires more power. Oka Antara plays Eka; Bangun’s advisor. And Cok Simbara takes the role of Bunawar; the chief of Jakarta’s anti-corruption task force who invites Rama to join his team & expose the corruption within the system.
But the cast doesn’t end here for we also have Alex Abbad in the role of Bejo; a self-made gangster on the rise in Jakarta’s crime world with an arsenal of assassins ready to die for him. And it’s actually Bejo’s top-tier henchmen who make up for the film’s most notable characters & are absolute show-stealers in their limited screen time. First up is Julie Estelle who plays “Hammer Girl”; a ruthless hired assassin gifted with claw hammers. Next up is Hammer Girl’s brother known as “Baseball Bat Man” who, as the name suggests, uses a baseball bat as his weapon of choice. And at last we have the internationally renowned Silat practitioner, Cecep Arif Rahman, playing “The Assassin”; Bejo’s deadliest henchman who wields two kerambit knives. Amongst the Japanese cast, Kenichi Endo plays the head of Goto family, Ryuhei Matsuda is Goto’s son & Kazuki Kitamura is present in the role of Ryuichi; Goto’s translator & advisor.
Another thing that I just love about The Raid 2 is that despite having a production budget of a mere $4.5 million, the jaw-dropping cinematic experience it provides is far more satisfying than the combined input of all big-budget Hollywood action flicks released in the last decade, including the ones that were reduced to a laughable PG-13 rating just to rake in more cash by bringing in more viewers. And that in itself is a big “fuck you” note to Hollywood which hasn’t given a solid action entertainer in ages. Also, Gareth Evans arrives as a no-experience director when it comes to filming a chase sequence & yet his first attempt is so remarkable that it deserves a place amongst the top car chases ever filmed. And one can only imagine the endless possibilities & new realms Evans can take action genre into if allowed a bigger budget. He’s an amazing talent to look out for not because he understands action better than most but he also knows the basic elements of filmmaking one needs to take care of in order to make it work. For me, it doesn’t matter now what he chooses to do next because I’ll be there to check it out.
Out of the numerous high-quality action sequences present in The Raid 2, the one that stood out for me is the final showdown which, in my opinion, is the most epic, intense, violent, electrifying & wildly entertaining mano-a-mano segment in the history of action cinema. And I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who thinks so. There is already so much action happening in the movie from start to finish yet this finale somehow manages to surpass everything that preceded it & is the best fight sequence to come out since the already classic two-on-one showdown between Rama, Andi & Mad Dog in the predecessor. The motor chase & gang war scenes are also highly memorable for not just the action but also how seamlessly they’re shot, edited & composed together. Gareth Evans didn’t just approach this sequel with the intention of correcting whatever was criticised in The Raid but tries to make improvements in every single aspect of filmmaking & succeeds to quite an extent.
In the end, although fans will always be divided over which is a superior film amongst the two, there is less denying that both films are supreme examples of its genre plus when it comes to pure adrenaline rush, thrilling factor & entertainment value, action films don’t get as exciting, inventive or satisfying as these two high-octane, full-throttled & top-gear spectacles. Martial arts films generally have the tendency to go way over-the-top, defying laws of physics in the process, which ultimately ruins the whole film for me as it’s the grounded portrayal that I like most & that’s one of the reasons why I love these two films so much. The smooth manner in which all its filmmaking aspects blend & work in perfect sync during its final hour alone makes it an instant classic and for the roller-coaster ride of emotions it provides throughout its runtime, it deserves to be ranked amongst world cinema’s finest sequels.
On an overall scale, The Raid 2 is an extremely ambitious sequel by Gareth Evans which dares to dream beyond its realms yet manages to achieve almost everything it set out to do by delivering a cinematic experience so unique & extraordinary that it will remain unchallenged for the next few years, at least. Thanks to its outstanding direction, deft writing, brilliant production design, splendid photography, immaculate editing, dynamic score, precision sound, sincere performances, unflinching violence & genre-defining action sequences, it comes out as one hell of an adrenaline-pumping, hammer-hitting, bone-shattering, heart-pounding, jaw-dropping, mind-blowing & ass-kicking cinema that’s smeared with blood & isn’t for the easily distressed. An absolutely insane exercise in endless carnage that’s brutal, brilliant & breathtaking at the same time, The Raid 2 is one of the finest action films ever made.