Published on March 24th, 2014 | by Damien Straker
The Raid 2: Berandal – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on March 24th, 2014
Madman presents a film by Gareth Evans
Written by Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Julie Estelle and Yayan Ruhian
Running Time: 150 minutes
Released: March 28th, 2014
There is some deliberate Meta referencing at the beginning of The Raid 2: Berandal when a gangster speaks about ambition and limitations. Coincidentally, these are the two most defining characteristics of modern cinema. A film limited by its scope and budget can occasionally defy its modest ambitions to become as popular as some of the more fancied mainstream Hollywood productions. The Raid: Redemption (2011) was a small hit from an unlikely source. Welsh director Gareth Evans is based in Indonesia and made the martial arts police film locally for only one million dollars. It was about a rookie cop named Rama, played by martial arts tournament finalist Iko Uwais, who cleared a tower block of heavily armed criminals after his squad was ambushed. The film earned a total of nineteen million dollars in revenue and was such a success that Hollywood heavyweights are planning a remake, which might feature the Hemsworth brothers. Yet filmmaking in any country is a greedy and complacent business. Directors are only solidified by being profitable. There is no money in unpopular art. The safest way to build on one success is to repeat and inflate the most successful elements and outperform the previous film.
This sequel is subtitled Berandal, which fittingly means “thug”. Predictably, it’s a bigger, more expensive and longer film than its prequel. It is 150 minutes, nearly an hour more, and cost four million dollars to make. Evans wanted to make Berandal as a prison drama years ago but it was too expensive, so he developed The Raid instead. I didn’t enjoy the first film and the sequel is as frustratingly short-sighted. If you are as easily bored by fight scenes as I am, particularly when the main character is invincible to an insurmountable number of blows, it offers nothing else. Its emphasis on mindless violence entirely overshadows and substitutes the themes and characters in the screenplay. It only proves how complacent Gareth Evans is about anything other than savage fistfights. He knows how to write because he has an M.A. in screenwriting from the University of Glamorgan in Wales. Yet after Berandal establishes a small gallery of characters who do have complicated motives this time, it retreats tiresomely back towards those action sequences. Though posturing as having a more complex narrative, it is diminutive in its achievements and ultimately limited.
Despite having watched the first Raid recently, the opening scenes are very confusing in re-establishing old characters and introducing new ones. The narrative becomes further convoluted when adding in a gang war between the Indonesian and Japanese gangs. It’s apparent that Berandal takes too many cues from Infernal Affairs and Martin Scorsese’s remake The Departed. Rama must hide himself and protect his family by becoming an undercover cop and infiltrating a crime syndicate to fight police corruption. It’s dubious and implausible that despite all the corruption no one recognises Rama or uncovers his new identity. There is admittedly more dialogue and more characters but it’s in vain when realising the simplicity of the characterisations. Rama doesn’t have a personality. He has a few verbal arguments with his superiors but no reaction to the people he kills, save for a cop caught in the crossfire, and no development. His wife and child feature so little that they don’t forge an emotional counterpoint to the fighting. Berandal also thinks it’s Shakespearean, resorting to clichés about aspirational gangsters climbing the criminal ladder. In prison Rama befriends Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of a crime boss, who is threatening to rise up against his own father. Being a violent, misogynist animal, he doesn’t elicit sympathy. Other characters are ridiculous cartoons, like Prakoso who looks like a hobo and kills for money to pay for child welfare, or are sketches including a killer simply named Hammer Girl. She has a friend who murderers people with a baseball.
The simplicity of the script is typified by Gareth Evans’ adolescent work behind the camera. He simply loves violence too much. There are apparently nineteen different set pieces in the film. They occupy broader spaces than the original’s claustrophobic confines. Each one is rhythmically predictable and similar: the characters prepare for a standoff in slow-motion and then engage in some of the most gratuitous, barbaric violence I’ve seen in years. People are punched, kicked, beaten, shot, bludgeoned, stabbed, run over and cut up with hammers. The frequency of the set pieces, particularly in the last hour where the story and themes are completely discarded, is monotonous in pacing and light on tension. The fights might look brutal and physical but we know they are choreographed because Rama rarely takes any damage. He shows no strains right after tending to a cut on his arm. The series’ most adamant fans will argue that realism doesn’t matter in a martial arts film. If it’s not meant to be realistic then why does Evans insist on making the violence as graphic as possible? Using handheld cameras and unbroken tracking shots, he scans meticulously over every single blow and snapped bone. Some people at the screening cheered and winced through the whole movie and others laughed loudly, which I’m ashamed to admit made me laugh a bit too. It was a result of how over the top the film is rather than a sense of enjoyment. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about violence as this sadistic and purposeless series.
Summary: Not everyone is as enthusiastic about violence as this sadistic and purposeless series.