Indonesia’s smash 2011 film, “The Raid: Redemption,” came out of nowhere and surprised action fans everywhere. Releasing in most territories the following year, it managed to keep up a breakneck pace throughout its 101 minute runtime and, though the story was minimal, the action was mesmerizing. When someone makes the claim that it’s one of the best action movies they’ve ever seen, it’s likely not hyperbolic. It truly is that good. This year’s sequel, “The Raid 2: Berandal,” doesn’t quite live up to the precedent set by its predecessor, primarily due to an expanded focus on a sometimes uneven story, but the action is just as good. If the action in the original blew you away, the action in the sequel will too, just less frequently.
The film begins shortly after the events of the first one. Rama (Iko Uwais) quickly learns that the crime syndicate that he just tore through in that criminal controlled tenement building attracted the attention of the larger crime lords in the Jakarta area. One of the leaders has a son named Ucok (Arifin Putra) in prison, so his first step is to go undercover as a criminal in that prison and get close to him. After saving his life in a prison riot, his father believes a debt is owed, so he recruits him into his syndicate. Rama’s ultimate goal is to earn the trust of those in the syndicate and eventually uncover the corrupt police officers and politicians that are truly in charge, but his challenge becomes a bit harder when Ucok tries to incite a mob war with the Japanese.
And that’s only a small portion of an overloaded story that switches focus from the Indonesian crime lord to their Japanese rivals to a number of hired hands and back again. One side story revolves around Prakoso, a new character confusingly played by an actor from the original, Yayan Ruhian, and his love for his family. A mostly worthless scene with his estranged wife tries to set up some emotion that will compliment an upcoming event, but its perfunctory attempt falls flat. It goes pretty much nowhere and has little significance to the larger plot.
In fact, many events in the film feel like little more than flimsy reasons to show off the cast’s martial arts skill. The first one was guilty of this as well, but it never pretended to be anything more than that while this sequel clearly has higher aspirations, so the film turns into what can only be described as a give and take. The story isn’t bad, despite some haphazard storytelling, and is even welcome after the empty narrative from before, but it’s sometimes hard not to wish it would just shut up and get back to the action. The first film wasn’t as acclaimed as it was because of its story; very few people would argue otherwise. It was acclaimed because of the impressive hand-to-hand choreography.
But when it gets to that action, there is simply nothing like it (aside from the first movie, of course). “The Raid 2” features some of the most impressive hand-to-hand fighting ever put to screen, particularly a battle near the end that takes place in a whiter than white kitchen. The stark contrast between the clean surroundings and the blood that eventually begins to spill is visually pleasing, but the moves on display are even better. In nearly every way possible, these late movie action scenes up the ante from the first film, due in large part to its grander scope, which allows them to bring together a car chase, close quarters hand-to-hand combat and a good old fashioned shootout in one glorious sequence.
Occasionally, “The Raid 2” feels like its showcasing the overt violence more than the actual martial arts, like when Rama holds an opponent’s face down on a teppanyaki-like grill for an unnecessarily long period of time. But when it comes back from these moments with action scenes that rival some of the best that had come before, it’s easy to forgive. It stumbles here and there, including in an early scene during a prison riot that’s less about the fantastic choreography and more about random inmates sliding through the mud occasionally landing some blows on each other, but it’s by and large an exciting event. Even its cinematography and editing live up to the high standards of the rest of the film by cleverly playing with viewers’ perspective on at least a few occasions.
“The Raid 2: Berandal” was clearly crafted with much love and care. It seems to desire to be more than the original, but in many ways it’s less. Its higher aspirations lead to a grander story and give more reason to care about the characters (even if only slightly), but in doing so, it deviates from the very thing that made the “The Raid: Redemption” so good. If the story had been more original and carried out in a more careful manner, this would have easily surpassed that film. As it stands, however, it’s firmly planted as runner-up, but when you consider the lofty expectations it had to live up to, it’s still mighty impressive.
The Raid 2: Berandal receives 4/5