– Summary –
Director : Gareth Evans
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Kenichi Endo, Cecep Arif Rahman, Cok Simbara, Very Tri Yulisman, Fikha Effendi.
Approx Running Time : 150 Minutes
Synopsis: Rama, now an undercover cop, is sent to infiltrate a ruthless crime family to gain their trust and bring them down. In order to save his family, he must rise slowly up the ranks, although in doing so, brings him closer to revealing his true identity and threatening the very things he holds most dear.
What we think : Imagine taking all the adrenaline in the world and transfusing it into one almighty action movie. Imagine what kind of movie might result, and that would be close to describing just how exhilarating The Raid 2 turns out. Filled with violence, brawls and all-out action, Gareth Evans’ sequel film not only attempts to go bigger, badder and, er… brutal-er, but actually delivers on that promise. If you enjoyed The Raid: Redemption, you’ll bloody love The Raid 2. Don’t wait, just check it out!
Nothing better than a good knife fight, right?
You’d have to be living under a rock, or on another planet, really, if you’re a serious fan of action cinema and you haven’t heard about Gareth Evan’s breakout instant action classic, The Raid: Redemption, a film that forever changed the perception of action cinema (at least, for me it did) as the equivalent of story-telling junk food. The Raid remains among the most memorable, most brutal, most entertaining film of its class in recent memory, and now, thanks to wide critical acclaim (and breakout commercial success, snagging $9m off a $1m budget!), we have a sequel. The Raid 2, here with the subtitle Berandal, is everything you could ask in a sequel and more; louder, faster, longer, more brutal and hard-hitting, and in the least it’s more widescreen than its predecessor ever was. However, and here’s the caveat, does The Raid 2 manage to equal, or even supersede the original? Most sequels tend to throw out the stuff fans of the previous film found boring, amping up whatever made the original great to a bazillion percent, and hope that drags people through the ticket-booth. The Raid, for all its low budget, scrotum-squeezing testosterone, remained lightning in a bottle, to some degree, in that as a story it was a self-contained unit of action film brilliance. The sequel takes that same concept and spreads it out over not only a city, but also several years, treading into unfamiliar territory (for the franchise thus far, at least) and hoping to enlarge the scope of what writer/director Evans is trying to accomplish. Does he succeed? Is The Raid 2 a brilliant follow-up to a legitimately great action flick, or does it suffer the same fate as other, more highfalutin’ sequels and descend into a bloody mess of body parts and viscera?
Plot Synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Following the events of the previous film, rising gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) assassinates Rama’s brother Andi. Rama (Iko Uwais) meets with Bunawar (Cok Simbarra), the trustworthy cop Andi sent him to at the previous film’s end. After sending Rama’s fellow survivor Bowo to receive medical attention and executing corrupt cop Wahyu, the instigator of the first film’s botched raid, Bunawar invites Rama to join a small anti-corruption task force which seeks to expose police commissioner Reza’s backroom dealings with the Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) and Goto (Kenichi Endo) gangs. While Rama initially declines, he ultimately assents after learning of his brother’s murder by Bejo and the imminent threat to his family. To ingratiate himself into Bangun’s organization, Rama assaults the son of a politician who opposed the family, earning imprisonment with Bangun’s son Uco (Arifin Putra). Rama, under the alias “Yuda”, saves the mobster’s life during a prison riot. Bangun subsequently hires Yuda when the latter’s prison sentence ends. As Yuda proves his value to the organization and earns the family’s trust, rifts grow between him and the unreliable Bunawar. Uco grows increasingly discontented with his father’s lack of faith in his abilities and placidity towards the Japanese, desiring to take on a larger role in the mob’s operations. Meanwhile, Eka (Oka Antara) is Bangun’s right-hand-man, only he has plans of his own, involving betrayal at the highest level.
Let’s face it, nothing was ever going to compare to the sheer brilliance of The Raid’s brutal assault on the senses. The Raid 2 comes mighty close – and I mean really f@cking close. Berandal (the title of which I’ll be henceforth using to differentiate this film from its predecessor) is a mighty opus of carnage, betrayal, loyalty and utter, utter chaos. Like The Raid, Berandal is primarily a film with a lot of fighting; primarily close-quarters hand-to-hand combat of the most brutal, bone crunching style, and equally similar to the original, it barely lets up for a second. The times Berandal does slow down, is only for thinly sketched character development and plot motivation – who’s betraying who, etc – and while this allows us time to breathe intermittently, the constant tension within the film, thanks to bravura editing by Gareth Evans (not only did he edit and direct, but he also wrote the damn thing!) and terrific sound design, serve to galvanize your expectation as to where the story will take you.
Berandal is a symphony of carnage, a film designed (apparently) to showcase the enormous variety of methods a human body can be incapacitated. From brutal martial arts, bloody knife fights that make the Segal/Jones fight in Under Siege look like a hand-holding contest, to incredibly pulsating car chases and even a fight between a deaf chick with hammers and her brother with a baseball bat (yeah, I just wrote that!), Berandal leaves no death untouched and no infliction of pain uncharted. As with the original film, those with queasy stomachs or an inability to handle gore (or copious amounts of blood) should probably avoid this (or at least watch it from behind your hands!); Berandal almost exceeds the original for sheer volume of violence-to-blood ratio. The aforementioned hammer-wielding-chick fight with Iko Uwais, who steps up as one of Asia’s preeminent martial arts and action stars, is phe-nomen-ally brutal, as is a stunning mano-e-mano kitchen fight between Uwais and co-star Cecep Arif Rahman, through which I found myself watching with gritted teeth and fingernails tearing into my leg (seriously, that happened!). For me, though, the piece de resistance of the entire film – at least from a pure action standpoint – is a lengthy and (again, I think I’m repeating myself here!) brutal car chase involving guns and Uwais battling several combatants inside a moving vehicle. It makes that freeway chase in The Matrix Reloaded look positively juvenile by comparison – particularly in light of the latter’s use of million-dollar special effects! A jaw-dropping camera move takes the viewer through three vehicles in a single, unbroken shot, a legitimately award-worthy piece of film-making I can only assume Hollywood is looking at accomplishing inside a computer someday.
It’s fair to say the action in Berandal is as hard-core and bloody as it comes. People are executed in the most cringe-inducing manner possible at times, with throats being slit, heads being blown apart (shotguns will do that, I guess) and plenty of casual automatic weaponry coming to play during the length of this two-and-a-half hour film. Yes, for 150 minutes we’re treated to one of the most breathless, engaging and not-boring action films of recent years, the kind of film Michael Bay might want to make but would flame out on after 90 minutes. Looking at the clock, you might think that a constant barrage of fighting, carnage and body assault would become tedious and/or fatiguing; fear not, dear reader, for Evans has an inexplicable trick up his sleeve. Evans, somehow, makes Berendal compelling in every frame, and every single action beat and sequence has a life (ironic, talking about life in the midst of so much death!) of its own that never once repeats that which has come before. The ripping pace Evans achieves is testament to his ability to recognize that the audience for these kinds of films doesn’t want lengthy exposition or mindless titillation, they just want action. And while sometimes this comes at the detriment to the story, the nature of Rama’s plight and his inevitable showdown with those he’s working against more than override any issues with plot.
Yeah, the plot is a typical pot-boiler – cop goes undercover to dismantle a crime syndicate from the inside, gain knowledge and intel, and in good cinematic style, has to betray the loyalty to those he pretend-works for. Rama isn’t a particularly deep character, although Evans does use the fact that he’s “doing it for his family” (a wife and child, mostly off-screen with the exception of a minor touch-stone moment late before the third act blow-out) to generate some level of audience connection. The rest of the cast are entirely generic, stock-standard genre avatars designed to move around Evans’ chessboard and eventually come to blows in a variety of bloody ways. None of the cast are more than fodder for wanton destruction (I mean, you know nobody bad is walking away from this, right?) and while Evans constructs a formulaic story to carry the films slower moments, it’s never high art. It’s all a calm before the storm.
And what a storm. From the opening moments of violence, to the beautifully shot closing moment (which hints at a sequel around the corner!), Berandal is one of the year’s most kinetic, climactic, breathlessly paced thrill rides that delivers so much action and human destruction it’s impossible to consider it anything other than sheer brilliance. Evans masterfully steers the film around ever being tiresome, or convoluted, or hell, even mimicking other films (including Redemption, in all honesty!); Berandal is heart-pounding, violent, adult cinema at its most demanding, adrenaline-fueled best. Don’t take my word for it though, see it for yourself and prepare to be amazed. Only don’t expect to find out what “Berandal” actually means. Not even the internet could give me a straight answer.
© 2014, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.