Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal

The Raid 2: Berandal
Dir. Gareth Evans

4.5 out of 5

Much like a three chord rock song, 2012's The Raid: Redemption satisfied action junkies with its brutalizing, back-to-basics simplicity.  Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans' throwback spectacle jettisoned nearly everything that might get in the way of flying fists and feet, tailoring the film to emphasize the virtuosity of his talented crew of stunt coordinators and Indonesian martial artists.  It wasn't subtle or complex (at least from a narrative standpoint), but it pushed all the right buttons for its audience.

If The Raid was Evans' "Satisfaction," then its sprawling sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal, is the director's Exile on Main Street.  It's nothing less than a modern action masterpiece, a film of dizzying ambition that just happens to measure its success in bruises and broken bones.  Picking up immediately after the events of the first film, The Raid 2 again centers on Rama (Iko Uwais), a supercop who is recruited to infiltrate one of Jakarta's most dangerous criminal syndicates.  Rama's mission is to shadow Uco (Arifin Putra), the petulant son of veteran mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), gaining Uco's trust as he rises through the ranks from prison bodyguard to foot soldier to loyal confidant.

Rama's story, however, is simply a point of entry.  The Raid 2 marks a massive increase in scope over its predecessor, as Evans is comfortable leaving his hero to explore a teeming underworld of colorful characters and competing factions, most notably a rival crime lord (Alex Abbad) who draws Uco into a plot to provoke an all-out gang war.  It's amazing how effortlessly the filmmakers handle a much wider canvas, constantly upping the ante with each setpiece without losing the visceral impact of the violence.  While memorable affectations abound - like a deaf, dual hammer-wielding female assassin - Evans doesn't shy away from the consequences of deadly combat.  There's an impressive tactile sensation in the fight scenes, as well as unexpected doses of poignancy from some of the movie's deadliest characters, notably a scraggly enforcer (Yayan Ruhian) dealing with the domestic fallout of his profession.  (Indeed, few films explore the plight of the henchman like this one.)

In truth, The Raid 2 is still using a story to tell martial arts, instead of the other way around.  But the genius of the film is the way Evans manages to make the thinly sketched elements of an old-school crime saga feel fresh and exciting thanks to a keen understanding of the cast's abilities and a boatload of visual panache.  There's nothing about The Raid 2 that feels perfunctory despite its derivative plot.  The filmmakers approach every fight as a creative opportunity, relying on elaborate camera movement, inspired location choices, and even wry humor to keep the audience engaged.  More than just a martial arts epic based around the discipline du jour, The Raid 2 is a symphonic masterclass in action technique, with form and function merging to create sweet, bone-crunching music.

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