When The Raid: Redemption crash-landed into the collective consciousness earlier this decade, it was hailed as a watershed moment in the history of action cinema. No other film in recent memory at that point was so single-mindedly, ferociously dedicated to cinematic hand-to-hand combat. It felt like the purest possible iteration of a genre that only seems to thrive now on direct-to-video; the action film as a vehicle for clear, unostentatious ass-kicking. Not to mention that the film found a perfect balance between the brutality of the relentless athletic displays on screen and the graceful, unobtrusive craft of stringing them together coherently. The recently-released sequel, The Raid: Berandal, replaces the lean video-game briskness of the original with a long, operatic mob drama. Though it doesn’t have the overall immediacy of the first entry, I will take the slight bloat of a deep-undercover plot line if it means nearly two solid hours of elegant skull-cracking.
The film picks up right where the previous entry left off: Rama (returning star Iko Uwais) finds himself egged into infiltrating a major gang in order to bring them down from the inside. There are twists and turns and power plays galore, but the real meat of the film are its astonishing, expertly-crafted fight sequences. That isn’t to suggest that the absence of a plot would have made for a better movie. If anything, The Raid 2‘s expanded universe gives the film just enough forward momentum to make it engaging as a rough-hewn, if rote, pieceInfernal Affairs-lite gangster drama.
But the trade-off is worth it, because if the universe of the film is expanded, so is the universe’s sandbox. The end result of this is tons of truly breathtaking urban-jungle stunt work. As expected, the fights are impeccably shot and choreographed; director Gareth Evans makes these scenes of carnage chug along at breakneck speed with kinetic grace. The camera keeps whipping around performers and props alike, but never loses focus for a second. The fights are remarkably more wet and brutal than they were in the first installment (which, lest you forget, included someone getting suplexed back-first onto a concrete railing). The Raid 2 could double as a demo reel of nerve-eroding ways to compromise the integrity of the human body in the context of a martial arts film, and much of that has to to with Evans’ creative use of environments and the performer’s ability with props (keep an eye out for the pair credited as “Baseball Bat Man” and “Hammer Girl”).
Amazingly, the film doesn’t lose a step when it goes beyond single fight scenes to larger, more ambitious set pieces. The prison courtyard mud massacre that occurs early on feels like it could careen off into total chaos at any moment, but Evans keeps his hands firmly on the reins throughout. There’s a sequence that combines three action movie showstoppers — a closed-quarters fight scene, a high-speed car/motorcycle chase, and a multi-participant shootout — into a thrilling, for-the-ages package. I don’t like to give the title of “instant classic” to anything, but I do strongly believe that this will become a totemic piece of action cinema, to be pored over and studies by aficionados and academics alike.
The Raid 2: Berandal is playing in select theatres.
Directed by Gareth Evans; written by Gareth Evans; starring Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pukusadewo, and Alex Abbad. 150 minutes.