Sequels are a tricky business. The Raid 2: Berandal seems to subscribe to the “bigger is better” school of thought that hamstrings as many sequels as it helps. So, does The Raid 2 better its predecessor? Of course not. Is it worth your time? Absolutely, unless of course you’re of a nervous or squeamish disposition, in which case it’s probably best avoided.
The trouble is 2011’s The Raid: Redemption was an instant action classic; a pulsating mix of martial arts and Western action sensibilities which rocketed along for 90 minutes of peerless, visceral violence and was content to tell Rama’s story in isolation of any extensive world-building. In The Raid 2 the web of intrigue is spread so much wider. Where the first film contented itself with the sense of a larger threat, a deeper conspiracy, a broader web, of which Rama was systematically ripping through the centre, Gareth Evans’ sequel at times seems barely Rama’s story at all. Instead of staging a repeat of The Raid: The Redemption‘s small scale plot involving a single SWAT team taking down a single mobster, here Rama is sent undercover to protect and befriend the imprisoned son of one of Jakarta’s most notorious gang lords, and in the process bring the organisation to its knees.
The Raid 2 may be longer than the first film, but it is certainly no slouch. Once the action kicks in, this becomes everything an action sequel should be. Seatbelts. Prison Bathroom Stalls. Hammers. Machetes. Baseball bats. Look no further for inventive “offing” of the many henchmen, whose appearance is also amped up from the previous film. They now seem to appear in such surreal numbers (while usually only attacking one at a time) that they take on the cannon fodder quality of video game minions, spawning only to be dispatched seconds later. Special mention must go to “Hammer Girl” (a decidedly literal name) for one of the most wince inducing train sequences ever committed to film, and to “Baseball Bat Man”, whose sadism results in some of the best carnage in the film. Evans’ distinctive directorial style which earned him much attention in The Raid: Redemption is once again on display. The film’s long opening shot affirms this, featuring a wide-angle shot of grasslands, with one small corner of the screen containing the action of the scene. The large outdoor spaces contrast with the claustrophobia of the first film, releasing the frenzied action into city-wide skirmishes in a frenzied second act. However, this is not to say that Evans’ sequel is devoid of enclosed spaces; an early action sequence in the grubby interior of a prison bathroom stall is another stand-out scene, once again highlighting Evans’ ability to create encapsulating imagery, in this instance the quivering fragility of a rusted lock the only thing separating the protagonist from death by mob. It is in these moments of extended contemplative imagery, often delivered in slow motion, hinting at Rama’s hyper-conscious state in the few seconds before combat that The Raid 2 finds room to breathe.
This is an admittedly long film, but there is no flabby middle section here, nor Peter Jackson-esque multiple endings to take the run time to well over two hours. Rama may become a little lost in the second act, but he is more a victim of the scale of Evans’ ambition than of poor script writing or structure. There is just so much going on, that the viewer may be exhausted simply through concentration.
If there is one criticism of the film, it is the presence of a sequel-inviting cliff-hanger ending, but the manner of the set up to this point is so breathlessly executed, and the promise of another chance to see Evans take the helm of a third part so tantalising, as to render this a nit-picking irrelevance. The Raid 3: More Raiding? Yes please.