[To commemorate the limited theatrical release of The Raid 2: Berandal, we are re-posting this review of the film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival]
The Raid 2: Berandal
Director: Gareth Evans
Release Date: January 21, 2014 (Sundance)
The Raid: Redemption practically came out of nowhere and introduced me to a new form of action films. From the completely visceral cinematography capturing every bone break and ounce of gushing blood to the introduction to pencak silat, a form of Indonesian martial art that is as brutal as it is beautiful to watch. Where The Raid: Redemption lacked in story and narrative, it more than made up for in immensely entertaining and awe-inspiring fight sequences. What made the film so successful is not the aforementioned fight scenes, but because of writer/director Gareth Evans’ tight focus, with the film taking place almost exclusively inside one apartment building complex.
Following on the heels of Redemption, The Raid 2: Berandal expands on the narrative, introducing audiences to the world outside of the Jakartan slums. Redemption‘s protagonist, Rama (Iko Uwais), turns to a senior officer to report on the events of Redemption and to take down the city’s corruption once and for awhile. In order to do that, he’s ordered to go undercover and infiltrate the ranks of one of the largest mob syndicates run by Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) by befriending Bangun’s son, Uco (Arifin Putra), in jail. Before long, tensions escalate into a gang war in which nobody is safe.
The plot of Berandal can be a bit confusing and overwhelming, especially for those who haven’t seen Redemption yet. Where Redemption thrived in its small scale, Berandal grows the universe and storyline exponentially, introducing a myriad cast of characters. Once past the early confusion, however, the film finds its narrative stride as Rama navigates the criminal underworld. The themes are endless in Berandal, with father/son dynamics, revenge, and redemption being the most noticeable themes purveying the film. Evans’ writing in Berandal is sound; whereas I had my concerns that such a large expansion would muddle the overall film, those thoughts were quickly erased in the film’s first act. While Rama is the center of the action, Uco is the center of the drama, and Putra’s performance is enough to sustain the plot in between fights. Most action films leave audiences just wishing for the story-driven scenes to hurry up; Berandal never lets the tension go, whether it’s in the form of a fight or a plot-driven sequence; needless to say, the pacing is spot-on and near perfection. However, in saying that, the film’s true bread and butter is in the action scenes.
Simply put: WOW. I don’t know how Evans and his team of choreographers did it, but literally every action sequence has at least one moment where you can’t help but drop your jaw in awe, surprise, excitement, entertainment, disbelief, fright, happiness, etc. I don’t want to spoil anything too specific, but Berandal features one of the greatest car sequences you’ll ever see in a film. If you thought you saw it all in Redemption, wait until you see Berandal; much like how the plot is expanded upon in the sequel, so too are the fight sequences. They’re visceral, desperate, entertaining, and above all else, as brutal as you can imagine. With a shaky cam, each attack is accentuated with a camera shift, each throw is met with a tumble, etc., proving just how well the cinematography complemented the fights. It can be dizzying at first, but it just adds to the entire experience. The fight sequences become more nuanced and elaborate as the film goes on; there’s also an evocation of classic video games (Mega Man comes to mind) where Rama will rush through grunts, meet somebody with a sense of a challenge, then finally ends with a pseudo-boss fight.
If you loved The Raid: Redemption, you’re going to find yourself enamored with The Raid 2: Berandal. It’s bigger, better, and more badass in every way possible, just like every successful sequel should be. Words simply won’t do this film justice. Watch Berandal the first chance you get – you can thank me later. While it may be too early to tell, the The Raid franchise just might be the next greatest action film franchise… so long as Evans and his team stay on board.