After ”The Matrix” forged every new trope in sci-fi that would follow for the next decade and busted every block in the process, Warner Bros knew when they had a good thing going. They threw genuine blockbuster money and resources at the Wachowskis, hoping to enact rule number one in Hollywood: if it worked before, do it again only bigger. We all know how that ended up.
The same economics seems to have been applied after the wild success of The Raid. Now, don’t worry, ”The Raid 2: Berandal” isn’t ”The Matrix Reloaded” or ”Revolutions”. It just means writer/director Gareth Evans has been given a much broader canvas to work with.
There are more sets more locations, more going on in the story and a higher sense of importance and stakes. If you have any problem with it, it’ll probably be because – where its predecessor was the most stripped-back movie in years – ”Berandal” (translation – ‘thug’), has a much more common narrative arc.
If Evans had an overall aesthetic to portray across the series, it might have been using the first film to let you know ”The Raid” brand is all about the blistering fights. Having established that, he now takes his time telling the continuing story of Rama’s (Iko Uwais) battle against organised crime in Jakarta.
Unlike ”The Raid”, ”The Raid 2” neither launches straight into the action, nor is the story merely about the action. This time it feels like a good half hour before the free-for-all fighting starts – audiences more interested in bone crunching bloodshed than narrative might start to shift in seats and check watches.
”The Raid 2″ begins as the first film has barely ended, Rama and the last two surviving cops from the original’s tower block battle taken in by a secretive police unit. They take his partner away to be patched up, shoot the corrupt senior detective dead, and tell him what they want.
Organised crime at the hands of local boss Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo) is tearing the city to shreds, and they want Rama deep undercover to infiltrate the syndicate and expose it. To do that, he has to go to prison to make friends with the crime lord’s suave but cruel son Uco (Arifin Putra) and get close to the right people.
After a stint of two years rather than the few months they promised, Rama is welcomed into the crime family, sent on errands busting up porn sweatshops and extracting graft.
But all the while trying to keep his cover, he has to try and placate Uco, who’s bristling at the low-level protection racket work he’s doing and wants his father to give him bigger responsibility. The more his father resists, the more Uco schemes to go behind his back and make a deal with the fearsome rival gang led by Bejo (Alex Abbad), in a move that will prompt all out war.
By the time this set-up is in motion, there have been some dust-ups in a prison yard and a sweatshop that are incredibly choreographed if not quite as distinctive as anything in the original. But at around the 40 minute mark, Evans, his stunt performers and actors let loose, and you can finally see the money on screen.
When they start to come fast and furiously, the fight sequences have the same sense of expanded palette the rest of the film enjoys. Rumbles in a moving car, a restaurant kitchen and a multi-level nightclub are as frenetic as they are inventive.
“The Raid 2″ also introduces elements that are decidedly more comic book than the original film, most notably in the characters of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (yes, they’re just what you imagine). And just like in the dingy apartment block from the last film Rama eventually has to swipe, chop, shoot, stab, punch, kick and somersault through all of them.
There’s more story, which might not be what you’re after. But there’s also enough incredibly skilled martial artistry and enough impacts of metal, wood, skin, bone and anything else within arms reach “The Raid 2″ will also be exactly what you hope for.