The Raid 2: Berandal Review

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As a huge fan of action movies, I had heard nothing but praise for The Raid going into its sequel. Of course, me being me, this didn’t actually lead to me seeking out the first film, as I tend not to get into something due to its popularity. That being said, The Raid 2 has made me into a believer.

It would make sense that a film out of Indonesia would be required to keep action movies up to date with the insane violence found in media today. Americans were always a bit squeamish, and our most violent fare ends up being played for laughs or fetishized into oblivion once they are franchised. The Raid 2: Berandal faces none of these problems, and borrows tropes from the ultraviolent games and anime features it idolizes in order to create a live action thrill ride that deserves to be placed in the highest echelon of its genre.

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In a well-trodden storyline seemingly taken from the same sources as Sleeping Dogs, our hero is Rama (Iko Uwais), an undercover police officer, aiming to take revenge against organized crime and root out crooked cops. Along the way, he becomes attached to Uco (Arifin Putra), son and enforcer of crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Uco is inpatient and rash, and his actions kickstart a bloody massacre across the entire underworld that Rama must circumnavigate in order to see that justice prevails. If you’re old enough to watch this movie, you’ve more than likely seen this story told before, but what is here is laid out superbly and easy to follow even when reading subtitles.

Even if the story was confusing, none of that would matter. The real attraction here is the wide variety of ass kicking on display. You have your more traditional martial arts scenes, in addition to scenes interspersed throughout the film including traditional and non-traditional weapons, multi-tiered gun fights, quiet assassinations, prison brawling, gangland executions, and just about everything else you can think of. The tension of each scene comes from when and where there will be more bloodshed, and the viewer is taken for a loop more often than not, which is impressive considering that there seems to be action around every corner. Battles sometime sink into a Star Wars-esque level of choreographed fighting, but they’re saved by the endless intensity on display from everyone in the cast, even down to the lowliest grunt.

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The intensity on display is matched by the violence dished out. I wasn’t kidding earlier when I mentioned bloodshed. The Raid 2 is a picture drenched in crimson glory. It doesn’t revel in its gore like some films tend to do. Every drop of blood spilled and bone broken is earned with harsh reality, instead of over the top zeal. In this way, it reminds me more of how video games deal with over the top violence. Chainsawing someone in half seems extreme, and a more traditional action movie would focus in on that and take perverse pleasure in it, or spend minutes detailing its victim in agony. It certainly wouldn’t happen more than once or twice. However, in the reality of Gears of War, this is a common occurrence on the battlefield thanks to the Lancer, so the action is focused on more for its visceral nature than its novelty. The Raid exists in this same type of reality and therefore feels more up to date than many of its contemporaries in the genre.

Several of the characters also contribute to the movie’s video gaming sensibilities. The major assassins sent out on missions are defined not by a name or personality trait, but by their weapon of choice. There is “Hammer Girl” (Julie Estelle) and her brother “Baseball Bat Man” (Very Tri Yulisman), the later of which is reminiscent of Lil’ Slugger from Paranoia Agent all grown up. They serve in much the same capacity as the Koopa Kids from Super Mario Bros, a mini-boss to overcome before reaching the final stage. Having characters with this limitation may seem to be a setback, but in a film that lives and dies on its action scenes it is liberating to have generals leading thugs into battle, especially ones that aren’t the stereotypical muscle bound enforcers you’d usually see an action hero overcome. Moments with these characters are highlights in a movie filled with memorable scenes, and their actor’s performances are a stand out in an exceptional cast.

Quotes culled from earlier reviews and shown in the trailer for The Raid 2 call it the best action movie ever made. I’m not ready to go that far, but it definitely pushes the boundaries of action filmmaking in exciting ways. I can’t properly put into words how refreshing it is to take in a film that seems in tune with the violence that many of us not just see but experience everyday through virtual entertainment. It neither hangs its hat on its savagery ala something like A History of Violence nor does it go over the top like some slasher film. It instead presents it in a dramatized but still real way. It brings its cliched story to life in a new and engaging manner, and avoids the trap of chastising its viewers for enjoying the grim carnage it presents. It is a proto-action film for others to be judged against, a treasure that will certainly inspire future filmmakers in its wake, and a vision of arcade brawlers brought to life in a visceral manner only hinted at on cabinet artwork. The Raid 2 delivers in every conceivable way, and is a vital experience for action fans everywhere.

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In Theaters: March 28, 2014
Runtime: 150 min
Rating: Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara
Genre: Action, Martial Arts
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Official Site: http://www.sonyclassics.com/theraid2