The Raid 2: Bernadal, dir/wr. Gareth Evans, st. Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Julie Estelle
If nothing else, your response to watching The Raid 2: Berandal will be shocking realisation at how little cardio you do. Actually, it's hard to talk about Evans' film without bringing up the original, a film I unapologetically trashed when it came out in 2012. Since that time, the budget has increased four-fold, Evans has knuckled down and turned in a convoluted Scorsesian screenplay of feuding warlords, the choreographic canvas has broadened to include more fight sequences and car chases, and with all that comes an extra hour that's been tacked on the original's running time. All this should add up to a migraine-fuelled orgy of hate and bile, right? Well if Evans' sequel preaches anything, it's that context is everything. Watching The Raid 2 I was reminded of Krishnan Guru-Murthy's infamous Tarantino-baiting Channel 4 promo interview for Django Unchained. "Violence is good cinema", Tarantino says. "It's a fantasy, it's cathartic." By fleshing out his characters' motivations, desires, ambitions and granting them comprehensive through-lines, Berandal's extreme violence may be enjoyed as part of a fictional narrative, rather than a vacuous montage of blurry fists seemingly designed to solely titillate and engorge the blood vessels.
This film sees the return of Rama (Uwais) from Redemption. Not content with his previous tower-block efforts from the first film, the police's anti-corruption outfit gives him the chance to infiltrate the intricate network of crime bosses and bring down the whole house of cards from within. Rama duly complies but soon the tentatively truced factions descend into a chaotic melange of power-plays and inter-gang executions. This time round it is easier to see the undeniable beauty in Yayan Ruhian and Uwais' balletic choreography in all its bone-crunching blood-spurting fury, but the camerawork oscillates wildly from tight and controlled to wildly unbalanced, as if unable to keep up with the frenzied action in front of the lens. No doubt an aspect of this is contrived thus to lend an air of docu-immediacy to proceedings, and sure, there's a grittiness to handheld camerawork that satisfyingly unpicks the glossy sheen of more clinically orchestrated anarchy, but it still occasionally feels every bit of its meagre $4m budget. Ultimately, the story doesn't quite ascend the heights of literary operatic crime fiction it clearly aspires to, but as a piece of savage cinematic escapism, the rage and bloodletting deliver palpable thrills.