Taking the unknown Indonesian martial art form and marrying it to a simple (the first film) and overly complex (the second) scenario, Gareth Evans has reinvented the action movie once again.
The Raid 2: BernadalDirector: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, Kazuki Kitamura
Studio: Fox Searchlight
US date: 2014-04-11 (Limited release)
UK date: 2013-04-11 (General release)
Every once in a while, a film genre needs a reboot. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of onscreen action. Go back 80 some years and you could watch matinee idols wield swords with carefully choreographed expertise. Five decades ago, car culture demanded high speed chases. In the late '70s, the Hong Kong efforts of the Shaw Brothers started washing up on our shores, only to be incorporated into Hollywood's desire for more kinetic onscreen spectacle. Auteurs with names like Cameron and Woo reworked the combination of camera and conceit until someone named Greengrass decided to shake the camera, providing a nauseating POV that few fans thought they would see in the cinema.
Now comes Gareth Evans and his pencak silat inspired epics The Raid and The Raid 2: Berandal. Taking the unknown Indonesian martial art form and marrying it to a simple (the first film) and overly complex (the second) scenario, he's reinvented the action movie once again... and it's a wonder to behold. For the sequel to his sensational search and destroy original, Evans amplifies the backstory, providing his hero, neophyte rookie turned undercover cop Rama (Iko Uwais) with a bunch of competing crime families and a link to corrupt elements inside law enforcement. Asked to infiltrate the world of Boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), he is "arrested" and sent to prison where he can contact the mobster's incarcerated son Uco (Arifin Putra).
After acting as protector for Bangun's arrogant offspring, he is released from jail and becomes part of the "family." Since other crime lords, such as Boss Goto (Kenichi Endo), are angry at the way things are in the city, there are tensions and potential threats everywhere. When an up and coming criminal named Bejo (Alex Abbad) decides to stir things up, he sends out a group of assassins to destroy the competition. They include Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), his sister Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and his far more deadly right hand man (Cecep Arif Rahman). Rama then has his hands full, protecting Uco, discovering the connection between the criminals and officials in the government, and preventing things from affecting his wife (Fikha Effendi) and newborn son.
Taking his preferred style of fighting and a real eye for excitement, Gareth Evans turns The Raid 2: Bernadal into his own gonzo Godfather. He loads on the operatic familial intrigue, sets up sons against fathers, gangs against gangs, and hired goons against hired goons for one of the most eye popping and mind blowing martial arts movies ever. If you thought the final confront in the first film between our unintentional hero Rama and the drug kingpin's main hitman, Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) was amazing, you haven't seen anything yet. In between the hand wringing and the blood betrayals, Evans offers up action sequences so staggering that they demand attention and future revisits.
Think Park Chan-wook crafted the best hammer-based beatdown ever? Say that after you've seen the incredibly gory and jaw dropping train sequence featuring Ms. Estelle and her pair of wild work tools. Wonder what a car chase would look like under Evans' auspices? The vehicular mayhem here puts the paltry efforts of something like Need for Speed to shame. Using a clever combination of old school set-ups and hand held accentuation, these moments move the narrative along, acting like the song and dance in a deadly, defiant musical. With Uwais and Ruhian handling most of the choreography, we end up with a homage heavy compendium of martial arts' greatest hits. Because they build, because they ebb and flow, they create a kind of cinematic energy all their own.
As for the rest of the story, it's the standard blood soaked body count sudser, in-fighting amongst the older and younger generations while outsiders influence events with their own arcane agendas. There's betrayals, back stabbings, double crossings, and of course, a closely held secret by someone high up in Bangun's crew. Some of the storyline is silly, repetitive and without significant impact. In fact, a good 20 minutes could be trimmed from this film and no one would really notice. However, the languid exposition does allow us to catch our breath, since Evans is bound to bring out another stunning fight set-piece to take us right back to the edge of our seat.
With this, his third film under Evan's tutelage, Iko Uwais finally proves himself a worthy hero. In the first Raid, and to some extent, in the duo's first collaboration, Merantau, the skilled stunt performer was a rather limited actor. We could read his emotions, but not really "feel" them. In The Raid 2, Uwais convinces us of his fear, of his trepidation over being on the wrong side of extremely lethal situations. Even when he's covered in mud, battling inmates in a prison riot or trading body blows in the epic finale, he sells the inner struggles. The rest of the cast is terrific, a compendium of professionals and fighters who form a kind of inner world where we buy the Olympian antics and Herculean harms. Let's face it , no real human could fight like Rama or survive the punishment he does, and yet Evans never once makes us doubt the authenticity of what's going on.
That's the key to any genre revision - changing the tenets without messing with the main idea. When Hong Kong invested their sometimes superficial stories with lots of wicked wire fu, it was the novelty, not the overall notion, which brought audiences in. The same can be said for slo-mo, CG, or that bile-producing earthquake cam. Once seated, however, your cinematic stunt better mesh flawlessly and deliver, or it will soon find itself on the pile of previous attempts at reinvention. Sure, pencak silat is the same as any other hand to hand skill set. It takes someone like Gareth Evans, however, to make it work as part of a movie. With this, his third attempt at mixing martial arts with meaning, he truly succeeds. The Raid 2: Berandal is not only a terrific film, it's a game changer. All other action will seem lame compared to this.