Though its full title is The Raid 2: Berandal, Gareth Evans’ sequel to his 2011 beat-to-a-pulp-a-thon, The Raid: Redemption, could just as easily be called The Raid: Unfettered. While the hyper-violent martial arts maiming moments will elicit about the same number of appreciative chuckles as the first, in his new film, Evans has cast off the spatial and temporal constraints that so defined his earlier effort. The Raid: Redemption can be viewed as a single, extended action set piece. Shorn of pretty much everything else but the action, the plot unfolds in a brisk 101 minutes as an elite police unit tries to dislodge a crime lord from his 15-story, henchman-infested apartment building (and then tries to survive when the attempt goes awry). Meanwhile, The Raid 2 spans more than three years and spreads the pummeling, slashing and occasional hammer-time throughout myriad locations. (The film puts on about 50 minutes in the process.) As a result, Evans’ latest unwittingly serves as the converse of the adage, “Less is more.” More, it turns out, is indeed less—though not by much, and not to an extent that is likely to bother fans of the original. In fact, though the addition of “extras” like multiple locations, a larger cast of non-fodder characters and oh, actual dialogue, makes The Raid 2 much less unique a film than its predecessor, it still registers as a pretty vibrant entry into the Yakuza genre.
The Raid 2 picks up immediately after the events of The Raid: Redemption. Bruised and bloodied, Rama (Iko Uwais), our rookie cop protagonist, has dragged himself and two of the three survivors from the events of the first film to the one man Rama’s brother has assured him he can trust: Bunawar (Cok Simbara). The head of an anti-corruption task force, Bunawar makes Rama an offer he certainly can refuse (for a while)—go deep undercover, cozy up to some high-level gangsters and discover exactly which cops are on their payrolls. Of course, eventually, events will persuade Rama to help Bunawar.
From there, things get a bit more complicated. (The very fact I wrote the preceding sentence is evidence of how the sequel differs from the first film.) Soon, Rama finds himself about three right hands down from Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), the mob boss who rules Jakarta along with rival boss, Goto (Kenichi Endo). Alas, Bejo (Alex Abbad), an up-and-coming gangster who looks unnervingly like Jason Schwartzman, is seeking to destroy the decade-long peace between the two established crime lords.
Besides the unpacking of a more complicated plot, Evans uses his additional running time to let the cinematography breathe a bit. Freed from the tight, drab confines of the first film’s tenement building, The Raid 2 has a fair number of overhead and wide shots, all while throwing in the occasional bright splash of color. (Unsurprisingly, red is popular.) And Evans seems particularly fond of pairing alternating shots of a mundane item (a bathroom stall lock, a brush handle) with impending mayhem (20 rampaging prisoners, 20 more rampaging prisoners). The results fall short of the operatic sweeps of a Kill Bill (or the films that inspired it), but they are another way in which The Raid 2 distinguishes itself tonally from The Raid: Redemption.
Of course, for all the subtle differences between the two films, the fight scenes erase any doubt of kinship. As Rama, Uwais is the same blur of pugilistic punishment fans of the first film have come to expect. The hyper-violence is just as hyper—and the varied settings allow for a more diverse array of collisions between bodies and unyielding surfaces. Head and wood. Head and asphalt. Head and metal bar. The Raid 2 is like an extended MythBusters on what surface wins when flesh and bone collide with inanimate objects. (Spoiler: the human skull never wins.)
If there’s a lesson to take away from The Raid 2—other than “Don’t wait until after the relentless killing machine has torn through all your henchmen before you try to flee”—it’s one with a foundation set in the film that came before it. The Raid: Redemption’s constraints—the tight budget, the compressed plot arc crammed into claustrophobic confines, the minimal dialogue—all these absences helped make Evans’s first story stand out as something more than just another hyper-violent genre effort. Possessed of the very things its predecessor lacked, The Raid 2 nonetheless makes less of an impression. Frankly, it’s a distinction that won’t matter to most.
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Yayan Ruhian, Donny Alamsyah, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad
Release Date: Mar. 28, 2014