Mark Reviews Movies

The Raid 2: Berandal


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gareth Evans

Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Ryūhei Matsuda, Ken'ichi Endō, Kazuki Kitamura, Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman, Very Tri Yulisman

MPAA Rating: R (for sequences of strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language)

Running Time: 2:30

Release Date: 3/28/14 (limited); 4/4/14 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 4, 2014

Unlike the streamlined and confined narrative of its predecessor, the plot of The Raid 2: Berandal is ungainly. The Raid: Redemption was smart enough to understand its purpose and play to its strengths—a firm command of action sequences that possessed incredibly impressive fight choreography and a sometimes chilling level of brutality. The plot—a tour through a high-rise tenement building filled with lowlifes trying to kill the protagonist on orders of the crime lord on the top floor—was simplicity itself; it did what it needed to do—nothing more or less.

There's much more focus on the story in this sequel, which is something of a necessity, given how many power-grabs and double-crosses there are. There's nothing wrong with a sequel that attempts to expand upon its predecessor, and in fact, most of the best ones do just that. The Raid 2: Berandal doesn't even resemble its forebear, though; it's a sequel only in name. After the initial setup, the central protagonist barely has a part to play in—or, for that matter, fits into—the jumble of underworld-crime politics that constitutes the rest of the movie, and that's a problem even beyond looking at the movie as a sequel.

No one here, especially the hero, is of any significance outside the realm of the plot. They are like wind-up toys for writer/director Gareth Evans, who also wrote and directed the first film. He turns the key, and they move as programmed from the start to the finish. It's a difference between reflexive characters and active ones. We can forgive characters whose primary purpose is to react in a simple plot—say, going from floor to floor to eventually get to a main villain. It becomes more difficult to forgive when the plot depends so much on what characters do while the screenplay leaves them in reflexive mode—simply waiting for the next obstacle to force them into action.

The story begins at the end of the previous film with Rama (Iko Uwais), a member of an elite police squad and one of the few survivors of the raid, being debriefed by the police department. A crooked cop involved in the mess is executed in front him. His newfound brother is murdered by a crime syndicate.

Evans is essentially wiping the slate clean in the movie's extended prologue, which then skips ahead years so that Rama, who has agreed to go undercover within the criminal organization that killed his brother, can also have his limited characterization erased, too. He spends time in prison to get close to Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), who is the leader of the mob in Jakarta. Rama earns Uco's trust by protecting him against an assassination attempt in the prison yard.

This is as good a point as any to offer praise where it is decidedly due, and that is for Evans' superbly choreographed and realized action sequences. As in the original film, they are punishingly vicious. Blood flows freely from the business end of batons, shivs, hammers, knives, baseball bats, and any other instrument—innocent or designed for such nasty work—that these characters can handle, and it doesn't get any less dangerous when limbs or extremities are involved.

The fight in the yard, which ends up with dozens of prisoners and guards going at each other like rabid animals, results in characters groping around for foes in a sloppy mess of mud and blood, but as prominent as the actual depictions of violence are, Evans' technique is so assured that they never distract us from how well-constructed the sequences are. The brief moments of really gory violence are the punctuation that aid in the flow of these scenes.

They do flow, too, with the way Evans maintains long shots of carnage and chaos. The camera follows the action without interruption and sometimes with seeming impossibility of movement, such as when it follows a man diving through a window or weaves in and out of a car during a chase/shootout down a busy street. They're exhausting.

Unfortunately, they also become less involving as the plot points mount and the characters remain static and undefined. Rama gets in with the gang, which is trying to keep peace with another local gang and avoid the plans of an up-and-coming independent criminal named Bejo (Alex Abbad), who has a team of thugs and killers with such self-identifying monikers as "Hammer Girl" (Julie Estelle) and "Baseball Bat Man" (Very Tri Yulisman). Once he's in, though, Rama is pushed to the background (Evans provides Rama's family—the only thing that defines him apart from his fighting skills—with exactly one scene), and the movie shifts gears to a rather broad crime drama featuring a long sheet of characters who, if they're lucky, are only a little better defined than the ones whose names come from the weapons they wield.

Roger Ebert somewhat infamously but correctly asserted that the first film was entirely about violence. The film knew that, though, and it worked. The Raid 2: Berandal tries to be about more than just that, and the outcome is regrettably less.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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