Within the vile underworld of a filmic criminal empire, violence isn’t a necessary evil, but a way of life. It’s not a secret that success here only comes with an iron fist and a quick trigger finger. No single film has embraced that mentality with such flourish and gritty abandon as 2012’s The Raid, the seminal action movie that has redefined the very expectation of a fight scene. It should come as no surprise that returning director Gareth Evans’ ups his ante in just about every way conceivable for his sequel The Raid 2: Berandal. Bigger in scope, broader in ambition, and every bit as unflinchingly violent as expected; The Raid 2 remains the gold standard in martial arts mayhem.
Set only a short time after the events of the previous film, hero and one-man army Rama (Iko Uwais) has found himself embroiled in a criminal conspiracy greater than he ever imagined. No longer is he tasked with only the personal vendetta that had him singlehandedly fighting his way to the top of a gang-controlled tenement. Now the stakes are much higher. In order to protect his family and uphold the law, he’s forced into a desperate situation that will see him in a years-long operation to infiltrate the crime family running Jakarta and expose the vast police corruption that enables it. Rama is voluntarily imprisoned in order to take on a new identity. The plan works extremely well, and Yuga (as he’s now known) soon becomes the brutal enforcer and trusted ally to the volatile son of the town’s most ruthless gangster. But as Yuga sinks deeper and deeper into his new life, he wrestles with his own personal demons, desire for revenge, and natural capacity for bloodshed.
Violence is elevated to new heights in The Raid 2 as both the overarching theme of the film’s story, and the selling point that will put bodies in seats. Evans does not disappoint when tasked with following up his past success. The athleticism and skill of the actors is once again in top form, with everybody dishing out and receiving near-superhuman levels of punishment. One major benefit of the film’s larger scope is the exposure that allows these new characters to shine physically. The film takes some sadistic glee in giving the story a few outlandish villains for Rama to pound his way through. Particularly effective is Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) whose obvious weapon of choice sees her pull off a massacre in a crowded subway that will have the most die-hard action fans squirming in their seat. New settings also breathe new life into the story, different than the nonstop brawls in the cramped apartment of its predecessor. Prison yards, kitchens, and nightclubs all offer creative new venues to see skulls get cracked. Die-hard fans of the first movie may find themselves a bit nostalgic for the narrow corridors and tiny rooms, but the mindset of the sequel is clearly that “bigger is better”.
Hand to hand combat isn’t the only thing compelling action in the sequel though. There’s gunplay that’s more tense and deliberate than the run-and-gun of The Raid. Surprisingly, some of the most intense and drawn out violence comes at the end of a barrel. There’s also a terrifically frantic car chase near the film’s climax, which has some of the best camerawork seen throughout the entire film. But for all that the action does right, the story does find itself slowing down at times. The narrative is longer and more complex, and while parts are successful, other times it can cause a bit of a lull. The exchanges between crime lord Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo) and his ambitious son Uco (Arifin Putra) are extremely tense and well acted, if a bit thematically familiar. These scenes punctuate the action with some solid drama, and it is definitely nice to see Evans put in the same attention and quality to his spoken scenes as he does his fight choreography. But audiences used to seeing the same tropes in previous gangster films may find themselves waiting a bit too anxiously for the next fight scene.
All in all, fans of the first film’s relentless action will find little to dislike about this follow-up. Plenty of great characters, locations, and weapons each make excellent contributions to a first class action experience. Framing all of it is a fairly complex narrative, complete with side plots and lengthy exposition, which might disarm those expecting another straightforward bloodbath. But something cannot be denied no matter how you come away from The Raid 2: Berandal. Two simple questions: where does Evans take it from here, and when can we see it?