The Raid 2: Berandal (Indonesia 2013)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 7/14/14
Written And Directed By: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman, Julie Estelle

Picking up mere hours after the events in "The Raid" (2011), Rama (Iko Uwais) is forced to join the anti-corruption task force and go undercover in order to protect his wife and child. His mission is to infiltrate a powerful gang and find enough evidence to destroy the source of corruption in the police department. In order to do that, he gets sent to prison and befriends the gang leader's power-mad son, Uco. After serving his sentence, Rama gets employed by the gang and his real mission begins. But Uco's ambitions threaten to throw the entire city into war, and Rama has to take out everyone in order to survive.

The film is exquisitely crafted and features some of the most incredible scenes of close quarters fighting ever put to film. Not only is the choreography amazing, but the camera work is utterly astounding. Director Gareth Evans and his DP definitely know how to shoot martial arts combat, and they make sure you see everything. Sometimes the camera work is so incredible that it becomes distracting, and instead of just enjoying a scene, your brain will kick in and say "Wait a minute... How did they actually DO that?" Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian give incredible performances and are a pure joy to watch. The kitchen fight between Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman pits the two silat masters against each other with spectacular (and exhausting) results. Uwais also delivers a strong and compelling emotional performance, and you can really feel his anguish, fear, and desperation. It's not often that a hero is allowed to show fear in cinema as it's perceived as a sign of weakness, but it results in a far more human portrayal of an otherwise unstoppable killing machine. Evans also introduces a female killer called Hammer Girl (beautiful Julie Estelle) into the mix, which is a nice break from all of the male dominated action. She's absolutely fabulous and I look forward to her action persona getting more developed in the future.

"The Raid 2" is big in every sense of the word, and breaks out of the claustrophobic confines of the original film with wide open exteriors, large indoor and outdoor sets, and multi-lane car chases. The film looks fantastic and is exceptionally well lit and photographed. However, it unfortunately lacks the single-minded simplicity that made "The Raid" so wonderfully refreshing, and the film threatens to collapse under its own sentimental weight and 150 minute running time. It's not that the film is dull by any means, but Evans spends a lot of time developing his characters in this film, and the melodramatic John Woo influence is readily apparent. Thankfully, these quiet moments of sentimentality don't derail the film, and they actually make the action scenes just a bit more potent. Much like the first film, this one is EXTREMELY violent and bloody, and even hardened action veterans may find themselves sickened and/or shocked by the relentless brutality on display. But it's never gratuitous, and Evans makes sure there's a purpose and an emotion for every action that takes place. While it's a very different film from "The Raid", it offers the same thrills and marks a definite evolution for all of the people involved in the production. Excellent work, all around.