When the Indonesian film The Raid: Redemption was released in 2011, it shocked moviegoers with its nearly non-stop action featuring moves audiences had never seen before . It won awards, was an official selection of several festivals, and ended up on several ‘best action film’ lists (not just of the year, but of all time). It’s just a shame no one saw it.
The Raid earned just $15 million globally, with $4.4 million coming from the U.S. It gained a following, though. Through the awards it earned and the word of mouth that fueled its reach, the film garnered enough attention to attract Hollywood’s eye, and launch talks of an American remake. It also ensured that the original Indonesian story would continue with The Raid 2: Berandal (“Berandal” is an Indonesian term for “thug”), which included a guaranteed American release.
If Redemption was a martial arts-infused action flick, Berandal is martial arts-infused crime drama.
There are still plenty of brutal and artfully shot moments of violence, and Berandal is not a film for the squeamish. Ever wonder what a shotgun blast fired from a foot away would do to a person? Hopefully not, but that – and many other bloody questions – are answered in Berandal. But the gore is generally a small part of the action. It’s largely there for emphasis rather than gratuitousness, and the choreography retains the balletic qualities that defined the first.
Berandal preserves all the elements of the Redemption that worked, and fixes many that didn’t – most of which relate to story and character development.
The Raid sequel begins hours after the conclusion of the first film, with Rama (Iko Uwais) taken in by a clandestine police division that wants his help brining down corrupt cops throughout the city of Jakarta. He reluctantly agrees in order to keep his family safe, which sends him undercover in a local prison as an inmate. There he meets Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of feared crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) and a target for other inmates looking to make a name for themselves.
Once released, Uco brings Rama into the family as thanks for keeping him alive. Rama stays undercover and becomes a supporting character in a brewing war in the Jakarta underworld. When things explode, he finds himself forced to fight his way out.
The story is familiar to the crime drama genre, and has played out in countless films before. There are a few differences though. The Raid was not known for sentiment, and that’s the case here too. There are no real questions of morality or loyalty. You’ll never have to worry about the film digging too deeply into ethics. That frees Berandal to explore its action DNA, but this time you’ll at least know the names of the characters fighting, and understand who they are fighting for.
The sequel’s story is still generic, but compared to the first Raid, the story in Berandal is a Shakespearean tragedy. Each new character introduced, each new plot twist revealed, all feed into the action that holds the film together. And the action is where the movie not only succeeds, it flat out dominates.
Where, in Redemption, one of the highlights was Rama fighting a hallway full of enemies, in the first few minutes of Berandal, Rama fights a hoard twice the size – and it just gets crazier from there. Small battles from the first are replaced by epic ones, and many of the combatants in Berandal are much more memorable and vicious. A machete wielding assassin, a girl that favors dual claw hammers, and her brother whose signature is a baseball bat are just a few of the characters at work. Most films have one or two characters like this – Berandal is comparatively saturated with them. Each fight is different and unique as a result.
There are a few moments where the action goes on a bit too long, though. These instances are somewhat rare, but watching the multiple 10-minute action sequences can be exhausting. There’s also the common action movie foible where the main character seems to have a cheat code that grants them unlimited stamina, even after dozens of fights in a row. But that just goes to the nature of the film. Berandal keeps pushing the limits of action movies, over and over again, with fights that are insane and visually stunning.
Gareth Evans continues to up the ante in Berandal, and he is proving to be one of the best action directors around. His work is reminiscent of John Woo during the height of his Chinese film dominance, when movies like The Killer and Hard Boiled made their way around the world and influenced countless action films to come. The two Raid films may end up having the same resonance, but only time will tell.
Assuming Evans follows through and completes the proposed trilogy (and assuming Iko Uwais doesn’t break his neck while filming yet another brutal and incredible fight), it will be difficult to top the action in this film. Of course, that seemed to be the case with the first Raid film too, and Berandal managed it. The story isn’t deep or particularly original, but it is engaging enough to make us feel like we have some skin in the fights. It’s also enough to make us eager to see what comes next.