Film review: THE RAID 2: BERANDAL, from Built For Speed

I haven’t seen Gareth Evans’ (the Welsh film director not the former Labor politician) first Raid film -a martial arts epic set in a Jakarta apartment building over-run by ferocious criminals – but as far as I’m aware it is not essential to have seen that film to follow the plot of the sequel The Raid 2: BerandalThe Raid 2 attempts to mix Donnie Brasco-style undercover cop drama with a martial arts movie and a smattering of prison movie. The result is a technically well-made but mind-numbingly repetitive, and confusing, chop-socky-fest that worships a little too obviously at John Woo’s feet.

Iko Uwais returns as Rama the young cop who battled his way through hordes of villains in the first film.  Here he goes undercover to infiltrate a vicious crime gang run by Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) and his sleazy son Uco (Arifin Putra).  In his undercover role as one of Bangun’s enforcers, Rama beats the bejesus out of countless rival crims, inflicting horrendous injuries which suggest that police ethics are pretty malleable in this world. Rama’s situation becomes extremely precarious, though, when the rivalry between Jakarta’s three major gangs erupts into all-out war.

About a third of this film entails overly-solemn, emotionally stagnant scenes of crime bosses sitting in boardrooms discussing war plans.  The rest of the film involves stultifyingly repetitive fight scenes featuring mechanical techniques and the ridiculous sight of hapless henchmen lining up like customers at a deli to have the stuffing kicked out of them one at a time. There may be blood, gore and gratuitous limb snapping but watching essentially the same choreographed fights over and over is utterly ponderous, it’s like listening to a stand-up comedian do the same gag 600 times in a row. 

Just in case you’re thinking I’m some conservative ponce who objects to violent fight scenes, nothing could be further from the truth.  I am a martial arts fan who will gladly watch the UFC and other cage fighting competitions, martial arts tournaments and boxing matches so I am in no way averse to screen violence.   I am, however, averse to grindingly tedious and unrealistic fight scenes particularly when they involve gratuitous use of shaky cam.  To be fair, there is some impressive stunt work in this film that suggests a cavalier attitude to personal safety worthy of early Jackie Chan movies but that can’t compensate for the painful tedium of the endless robotic combat sequences.  If movie-goers want to see fight scenes done properly they would be much better served watching the infinitely more believable martial arts battle between John Cusack and Benny “the Jet” Urquidez in Grosse Pointe Blank.

Also, with the introduction of a hammer-wielding female assassin and her baseball bat swinging accomplice late in The Raid 2, the fight scenes adopt the satirical pop-cultural tone of Kill Bill.  In the rarefied world of a Tarantino movie this would have been fine but in a film that tries to be gritty and serious like The Raid 2, this excursion into fetishist fantasy grates and makes it difficult to accept the straight drama in the rest of the film. The film also fails to introduce characters properly with some simply popping up in the middle of the film without explanation.

In the lead role Iko Uwais looks appropriately tough but the one-dimensional and emotionally hollow script deprives his character of any charisma.  Also, the performances from the supporting cast range from jarringly over-the-top to tediously monotone.

This film cannot, however, be accused of looking like a shabby martial arts cheapie as it features some very impressive production values.  The  cinematography from Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono is particularly striking and even recalls Kubrick in its symmetrical framing of interiors and its atmospheric use of a lurid red colour scheme.   In fact, compared to most production line martial arts films, particularly those from the 1980’s, The Raid 2 is high art.  Unfortunately, the film’s artistic merits are trampled by the endless parade of mind-bogglingly tedious fight scenes.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Action/ Martial Arts.

Classification: TBA.

Director(s): Gareth Evans.

Release date: 28th March 2014

Running time: 150 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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