I’m not in the habit of going weak at the knees about any imminent movie release. When the announcement of Berandal came, I was pleased that Gareth Evans had received deserved success for a film that he had clearly put his heart and soul into. Enough, in fact, to ensure a sequel and what will eventually become a trilogy. His work has made him, for all intents and purposes, a hero of Indonesian cinema. The Raid Redemption is by some margin, the most commercially successful film to ever come out of the country.
Granted, I’m not the biggest fan of fight movies in general, but nonetheless, I was heartened that Evans was getting all of the plaudits that Redemption truly deserved. It was unique in style and tone, exquisitely choreographed, featuring some of the most inventive direction yet witnessed in a film of its type. If we’re honest, the acting was okay, but never great, yet this seemed to matter much less when faced with the onslaught of Pencak Silat we were lucky to have sat through, floor by bloody floor.
And so onto the film that would never have been made without fans worldwide taking Redemption, a bonafide shock surprise, to their breathless, swiftly beating hearts. Only a couple of hours after the conclusion of the original film and events have made rookie cop Rama something of a target in a larger world that he previously had little knowledge of. His actions have brought him to the attention of some much bigger fish and in order to protect his wife and infant daughter, he is forced to go undercover to attempt to topple the underworld from within, starting in prison.
Of the criticism levelled at Berandal, the most vocal has been the choice to add what you may or may not like to call a plot. Honestly, Redemption was a deftly executed burly brawl in a tower block, lacking any kind of real exposition. Atari made 8-bit arcade games with more of a storyline back in the eighties than what was offered in the original film, and Evans has attempted to address what he clearly saw as something missing. If you’ve turned up for the fighting, then you’ve made a great choice with the sequel, but be in no doubt that you might actually have to think about what goes on here, rather than just sit in awe and wonder at the violent acrobatics.
And this may be what ends up defining the film. The acting skill on show has gone up considerably, but then it really had to, in order for the gravitas to not appear comical. This is as much a story about crime as it is about family and honour, ambition and greed, so a simple punch in the face here and a snapping femur there was not really going to cut it. For all of the trouble and strife Rama is put through, it has to mean something.
And boy did Evans want to get that across. Weighing in at a sizeable and entirely unapologetic one hundred and fifty minutes, it would be all too easy to find yourself looking at your watch, thinking that two and half hours is a bit of a slog for nothing more than interesting and inventive scenes of carnage and wanton destruction.
But the make or break is whether those same fans of the first film will take to this slower pace. The story is relevant, but do you want it? Do you care about the characters feelings and motivations or do you just want to see them looking cool and being hard as a bagful of very large spanners? Well, only time will tell if the same western enthusiasts will accept what is really is nothing more than an average plot amongst what they actually turned up to watch. The fighting purists may regard this dilution of what they see as the the films’ reason for being as nothing more than an unwanted aside that keeps poking its nose in, mucking up the action.
And the action is, as you might expect, very satisfying. The set pieces are well directed, brutal and visceral in design and execution. This is no surprise as this is, after all, what Evans is best at. He has a natural affinity for the country, being resident there, and his feel and choice of locations are clearly borne from an intimate knowledge of the culture and place that his stories inhabit. His direction relishes the setup and the film really comes to life when anticipating an oncoming skirmish, which is an always welcome diversion from the stern men in offices, brows furrowed, being serious and not the least bit fighty.
In summary, this is really not The Raid you’re looking for, assuming you were expecting something more akin to the orginal film. It contains some truly memorable scenes which will make for animated office talk next week, but you will have to be patient to get to appreciate them all. This is a great film, but it requires your full attention to get fully engaged with the story and if you have just come for the fighting, you are going to be regularly bored. It looks suitably weathered and the characters are (for all we know) authentic. Not quite as physically inventive as the original and with certainly less thrills, it is a considered extension to the Raid universe that puts meat on the bones of a opener that was lacking a cohesive narrative. We can only wonder what Evans has up his sleeve for his inevitable finale.