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Review: 'The Raid 2: Berandal'

A muddy prison battle in "The Raid 2."
Sony Classics
A muddy prison battle in "The Raid 2."

Sequel Doesn't Live Up To Original

Two years ago “The Raid Redemption” gave action junkies the kind of fix they dream about. Now the sequel, “The Raid 2: Berandal” (opening April 11 in select theaters) arrives on the scene.

The Raid Redemption” was like crack cocaine for action junkies providing a rush unlike anything since the heyday of Hong Kong actions films in the 80s and early 90s. "The Raid" was an Indonesian film but it was directed by Welshman Gareth Huw Evans. In 2007, Evans went to Indonesia to make a documentary about Pencak Silat, a style of martial arts not widely known in the West. He met Iko Uwais, a truck driver with a knack for the Silat style of martial arts, and the two collaborated on “Merantau” in 2009 and then “The Raid” the following year.

Companion Viewing

Hard-Boiled” (1992)

"City of Violence" (2006)

Merantau” (2009)

The Raid Redemption” (2010)

“The Raid” was a damn near perfect action film – lean, muscular, efficient. It had the simplest of plots – good guys on the ground floor of a building and working their way up to the bad guy at the top. That’s it and that’s all it needed. Evans perfectly understood that action fans don’t need a lot of plot just a lot of adrenaline and well-choreographed action with characters whose fates we care about.

The film was a huge success and a sequel was immediately greenlit. Unfortunately, the limitations Evans faced on the first film – a small budget and not a lot of time to shoot – seem to have been one of the reasons the film was so good. Now with a bigger budget, Evans delivers a film needlessly bogged down in plot, and far too long (clocking in at nearly two and a half hours). It’s like he’s trying to make an art house action film where characters sit around and talk.

Here’s how the press kit sums up the plot: “Following immediately after the events of ‘The Raid,’ Rama (Iko Uwais) is forced to reinvent himself as an undercover cop in order to provide protection for his wife and child. Working for the anti-corruption taskforce led by the one person he can trust, Bunawar, he is given a mission to engage himself as an enforcer for a local mob boss, Bangun. Finding a way in through Bangun's son Uco, Rama must hunt for information linking Bangun with police force corruption. All the while, he harbors a dangerous and personal vendetta for revenge and justice that threatens to consume him- and bring both this mission and the organized crime syndicates crashing down.”

That’s needlessly complicated. All it needed to be was this: “Rama’s brother is killed by the mob sending Rama on a quest for vigilante justice.” But the film is so overplotted that the idea of revenge gets lost by the end and you don’t even get the satisfaction of revenge at the end.

All that said, however, “The Raid 2” is still head, shoulders, and high kicks above any other action film you’ll probably see this year. But it has the unfortunate challenge of having to equal or surpass a film that set the bar very high and therefore setting my expectations very high.

After the screening I went to, my son and a filmmaker friend had a heated dispute about the film. My son agreed it was slow to start but that the last half hour delivered enough action to make up for any earlier shortcomings; my friend countered that it had none of the style and efficiency of the first film. Social media suggests that fans and fan sites are embracing the film. I am a huge fan of the first film but have to admit a sense of disappointment at the second. I am curious to watch it again to see if a little distance from my initial expectations might let me appreciate it more. But no amount of re-watching could ever convince me it is the equal or superior of “The Raid Redemption.”

A subway fight is one of the action highlights in "The Raid 2."
Sony Classics
A subway fight is one of the action highlights in "The Raid 2."

“The Raid 2” does have some high points like a subway fight between a mute female killer and a bunch of mob guys on a subway, and a lengthy end battle for Rama. But then there are odd turns like bringing back the actor Yayan Ruhian (who so vividly played Mad Dog in the first film) to play a completely different and in fact polar opposite character in the sequel. It’s distracting, and the new character is rather lame and fails to give the ruthlessly talented Silat fighter Ruhian a real chance to display his skills. Additionally, there are fights like a muddy battle in prison, where we can't tell who's who and that makes us less invested in the action because we can't tell who to care about. In fact that as one of the strengths of "The Raid." We cared about the main characters, we were engaged in the story because we were concerned with what happened to them and identified with them. In the sequel, we have so many thinly drawn characters that the action doesn't rivet us as it did in the first film.

“The Raid 2” (in Indonesian with English subtitles and rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality, and language) is, despite its failings, still worth seeing for action junkies. But “The Raid Redemption” is just the far superior film and immediately after seeing the sequel I had to rack up the original.