The Raid was a film that needed a sequel. Not by narrative necessity, but reasons of justice. It would be criminal to gift the world such a martial arts blessing and deny any more quantity.
What made The Raid eternally memorable was its vicious, but symphonic choreography. But the rationale for the first film is nearly impossible to replicate accurately, unless an arbitrary reason is found to send another Indonesian SWAT team up another shady apartment tower.
While the first Raid was an unforgiving action film, with survival horror undertones, The Raid 2 is more akin to a crime thriller at a human buffet. Set mere hours after the initial movie, the martial arts prodigy and survivor of Hell’s staircase, Rama, is coerced into undercover work to root out the real source of corruption in the police. Consequently he snuggles up to a crime lord by befriending his son in prison as a double agent.
The Raid: Redemption reflected a dedication to simplicity amidst an emotional overcast. The confines of a psychopathic complex provided a sound framework for the action. The obscurities of an undercover story and the suave mind-games of criminal kingpins however cannot trump the clarity of its predecessor.
The Raid series has found its identity in the strength of its action. Any plot, while certainly not without benefit, exists mostly to serve that purpose. Under the umbrella of a detective story though; what was a transparent and tangible goal is replaced by more contrived motivations and a loss of narrative discipline. A lack of discernible direction is clearly evident, too. The film remains passable on its own merits, but this isn’t the graceful weaving of airy haunting and pandemonium that was cherished so in the first film.
I feel a spiritual successor would have been more appropriate. A new premise – so as to not be bound by the storyline-shackles of a predecessor – with all the martial art romance that was meant to be.
What The Raid 2: Berandal does do well is suspense – loitering camera shots tantalizing the inevitable violence. But there is pattern to the chaos, and it is ridiculously proficient. These are among the best action scenes I have borne witness to. An unrelenting foray of fist and dance playing to the baton of a veteran combat composer. Such is the skill and mastery of the choreography that I have no qualm calling it art. Impressive as it is, it has a brutal vision, and even horror aficionados may find reason to squint at its unapologetic approach to violent purity.
I’m glad The Raid 2: Berandal found the light of existence, but I wish it had been under different circumstances. The architecture of its action is astoundingly visceral, but it could have been better if it wasn’t trying to live up to the shadow of its older brother, and could have prospered even more from a new story and concept. Even so, under the guise of an undercover thriller this isn’t disappointing, just a little ruffled.