THE RAID 2: A REVIEW

“The Raid 2: Berandal” does everything better than its predecessor, “The Raid Redemption”…
Except for what “Raid Redemption” did best.

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To start, this is a very good movie. It’s more expansive, more artfully directed, more ambitious and more scripted than its predecessor. The music and mood and style is just as good as before and in many instances better. In every way Director/writer/co-editor/action choreographer and all around Welshman Gareth Evans has grown as a filmmaker, or at the very least, has moved into a position where he can now show off several directorial talents that the first “Raid” didn’t allow for. With his newfound success he has been afforded the joy of juicing up his monster international martial arts franchise. But in doing so he has left behind, either intentionally or through oversight, the very engine that made the first “Raid” sing so loudly.

The “Raid Redemption” was an extremely poorly written film that managed, through its energy, savagery, high-concept and superbly choreographed and filmed fight scenes, to be one of the most exciting martial arts films in years. It featured both gunplay and Indonesian fighting styles, known collectively as pencak silat, in huge dosages. It was a simple, beautiful thing. Yes, there were brief moments when clumsy dialogue, half-hearted stabs at familial drama and hollow acting gummed up the works, but mostly “The Raid Redemption” was a runaway train of martial majesty. It was leaner, tighter, meaner and more driven than this new film.

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Give a woman a hammer and she can build a house, or…
(Julie Estelle as Hammer Girl)

Clocking in at almost fifty minutes longer than the original, the sequel has virtually no engine at all. It is “The Raid” in name, but not in spirit. In fact there’s really no need for this to be a sequel to “The Raid”, except that the franchise carries weight with viewers. This could’ve been called something different and lead Iko Uwais could’ve played a new character and it would’ve only been superficially compared to the source film. Where “The Raid Redemption” was unrelenting, this is halting, and in the middle, even boring. Director Evans has said in interviews that the first raid was a “survival horror” action film that happened to have hand-to-hand combat in it, and that this is supposed to be “a gangster crime movie” that also happens to have hand-to-hand combat. So I suppose he felt that meant more familial drama and board meetings. He has also said, “For me it has to work as a story first. It doesn’t work if the action is just kind of thrown in. What I wanted to try to do in this one is make sure each action scene, each beat, would be in response to the plot and push the plot forward. There would be character arcs within the fight scenes.” A noble effort to be sure, but it’s harder to pull off than to talk about, and that’s exactly where this film stumbles.

It’s true that Evans is better at the non-action drama this time around, but it’s still not even remotely his greatest strength as a writer. And so as the film sprawls and characters we don’t care about go through the mechanics of the plot, we end up waiting for long periods of time to get to what Evans and this property do best. A prison riot scene near the beginning is too small in scale to be impressive and the entire middle of the film is mostly a tired limp with a few great action scenes thrown in that really only work if you’re wearing genre goggles (which is fine). It all seems at odds with Evans stated purpose.

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One of the smaller, but no less meticulously designed spaces in the film. With Tio Pakusodewo as Bangun.

Evans is a great visual director. He uses and photographs his spaces extremely well. Some shots are breathtaking works of composition and color. There are two cinematographers credited, Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono, and they collectively do a gorgeous job. The movie truly looks amazing and it’s worth watching for its texture and visual tone alone. In fact it’s the lensing that carried me through the poorly written, tedious character moments.

The script is uncoordinated in a million little ways. The first film had a built in reason for the gunplay to end and for the fist, foot and blade work to begin (limited ammunition in a confined space). This time around it’s genre convention alone that explains why this gang war is being fought by hand. In another example of script carelessness, a man is bugged, the huge microphone placed in his wallet. The bugged man doesn’t notice it for days, but then goes to tip a bathroom attendant at the most opportune time in the plot, only (gasp) to find the mic. We are to believe he hasn’t looked in his wallet all this time. Another scene has a magnetic camera being stuck in a surveillance position, transmitting images to a digital tablet to spy on people down the street. This set up is meaningless, however, as the spy simply watches the scene with his own naked eye. The movie is filled with little fumbles like this. Of course these are minor quibbles. Normally in an action film you’d gloss right over such complaints, but with the movie working hard to be something other than just straight action, these missteps become glaring. Add to the lackadaisical scripting some pretty murky, or just plain one-dimensional character motivations and you have a movie that’s constantly reaching beyond its grasp.

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Iko Uwais as Rama

There’s some good acting here, but the amazing fighter Iko Uwais in the lead, a paragon of physicality, has no real charisma as a dramatic performer and carries no weight in any scene that asks him to be more than brooding and dangerous. Sadly, several more scenes ask that of him this time around.

A high point, however, is the return of the amazing Yayan Ruhian. In the last film his character, Mad Dog, was the real star. Being a villain, however, he died. So it’s a delight to have him return here as a new character. He’s on the screen for far too brief a time, and I kept wishing that the whole movie was just about his character. But at least we have him here and the movie perks up when he’s onscreen, breaking up the boredom as we wait for the endeavor to get revving.

Yayan Ruhian as Prakoso

Yayan Ruhian as Prakoso

And then it does. With maybe thirty or so minutes left, a car chase occurs that is absolutely inspired. Just a brilliant piece of action choreography, and after that the movie hardly slows down. It finds its roots. A fight in a beautifully designed red hallway feels truly epic and emotionally charged. It’s almost immediately followed by a mano-a-mano battle in a pristine kitchen that is as good as, or possibly better, than anything the first “Raid” delivered. Exposition during this final act is terse and to the point. The action is breathtaking. The direction spot on. Suddenly, “The Raid” is reborn, and that other movie, the one that was trying so hard to be the Godfather of martial arts films, or at the very least, a Takeshi Kitano flick, that movie fades away and we remembered why we bought our ticket in the first place. From that car chase to the enthusiastic credit sequence, we’re back… back to the hard, unrelenting world of “The Raid”, and it feels damn good.

Moments before one of the most bad ass movie fights in years.

Moments before one of the most bad ass movie fights in years. With Cecep Arif Rahman as The Assassin.

“The Raid 2” is absolutely worth seeing. It’s something different than what you might expect. It’s not a better film, though so much about it is better. Yet there seems to be a core lesson about energy and flow – two central characteristics of martial arts – that this new film, all slick and epic and filled with one-dimensional character drama, has forgotten.

I’ll say this though, I’m very excited to see what Gareth Evans does next. He’s unquestionably a director worth following and the freshest thing to happen to action movies in recent memory.

Posted on by Joshua Dysart Posted in Film & TV, Journal

2 Responses to THE RAID 2: A REVIEW

  1. Miles Gunter

    Great review man. I have been looking forward to this and avoiding reviews in general as most reviews these days seem to be plot summaries. Seen lots of gushing on twitter leading up to the release. Making it sound like the second coming of McTiernan. But it sounds like there’s a lot of tedium and contrivance between the break neck stuff. Maybe Evans needs a good producer to whip his dramatic writing into shape. Action writing has been my focus for many years now and I always find the character stuff to be more of a challenge than designing action (veggies vs desert). I look forward to eventually checking it out.

    Hope you are doing well my friend!

    • Joshua Dysart

      Miles!! It’s great to hear from you on here! I hope your life is grand. It’s been ages.

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