Rama (Uwais) is out of the tower block, but not out of the woods. An undercover mission places him among Jakarta’s most nefarious criminals, including the trouble-making Bejo (Abbad) and petulant Mob heir-apparent, Ucok (Putra). Fisticuffs and footicuffs ensue.
Gareth Evans is not a lazy man. A lesser University Of Glamorgan graduate-turned-creator of blistering, Jakarta-set action cinema would have taken stock of the success of The Raid, aka Die Very, Very Hard, then made the same shit happen to the same guy twice (probably at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport). Instead, Evans escalates his ambition. The Raid 2 is not Raid Harder. And while it has its flaws, it’s still a monumental experience to sit through, and one that proves beyond doubt that this is a director with talent to burn.
The sequel, subtitled Berandal in the States and based on a story that Evans conceived before the first film, is set over years, rather than a single day. It devotes hefty chunks of screen time to the various factions of the Indonesian underworld. And the pared-down, rip-roaring quest narrative of the original — Rama (Iko Uwais) and fellow cops must escape a tower of terror before they get machete-killed — is replaced by a spider-web of murky, shifting allegiances. Plus, as the 148-minute run-time suggests, there’s plenty of dialogue before the die-alogue kicks in. The Godfather is the obvious model. Though if Evans had made that, Don Corleone would have killed 52 men using only oranges and his cat.
The Raid 2’s plot, in fact, calls to mind a number of crime classics, not least Infernal Affairs. After picking up where the last movie left off, with our hero having freshly staggered out of the world’s least fun building, it quickly deposits him in a hell-hole prison, undercover and attempting to buddy up with the arrogant son of a Mob boss (an excellent Arifin Putra). From the off Evans’ casting is again spot-on, and his tension-simmering abilities masterful: behold the shots of a door lock quaking apart as enraged cons batter it down to get to Rama.
Before long, though, it becomes apparent that this instalment is less likely to be stuck on after a future Friday-night pub trip. At least, not without some judicious fast-forwarding. While the dramatic scenes are individually strong — particularly one portraying a karaoke session that goes sour — there is an enormous quantity of information to take in and a surprisingly measured, meditative tone, reminiscent of Only God Forgives. The story-cogs take a good while to start whirring. Rama-lovers may also be disappointed that the cherubic killing-machine gets somewhat sidelined this time around. At points, the fact that this has been reverse-engineered into a Raid sequel can be felt.
But if the writing is sometimes overly knotty, Evans’ characterisation remains sharp as a kerambit. Memorable new additions to the swelling Raid mythology include Bejo (Alex Abbad), a dapper psycho with shades and an unexplained limp, a Japanese crime syndicate (headed by Kenichi Endo, star of the spectacularly titled Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger The Movie: Full Blast Action), and a pair of assassins named Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), who live up to their billing and then some.
Though the last two feel like they’ve parachuted in from another movie, possibly Kick-Ass 3, they deliver exactly the kind of insane carnage Raid-lovers have paid to see. There is an astonishing amount of violent action here, doled out in hearty portions and captured with such an unflinching gaze that even the strongest stomach might spasm. Legs snap. Throats and knives interact. Heads are pulped into sausage-meat. Evans is a director who never knowingly underkills.
Yet, however shocking things get on screen — and often the only possible reaction is to laugh — the action is choreographed with a precision, wit and scope that keeps you on the edge of your seat, rather than under it. An early prison-riot scene is a startlingly harsh, expansive mêlée, the roving camera hurtling between the myriad mud-slathered combatants. A fracas in a porn studio features a shotgun and a dildo. But the movie saves its real goodies for the final, exhausting, utterly nutzoid 40 minutes, in which the relentless spirit of its predecessor is restored. It’s a reel that begins with a brace of assassinations, ends up at a restaurant/henchman factory, and along the way chucks in a car chase for good measure. Among Evans’ many new tricks this time around: the invention of seatbelt fu.
A bulkier, slower beast than Evans’ first film. But when it enters combat mode, it’s more raucously bloodthirsty than anything you’ve ever seen. Unless you’re Ross Kemp.