Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal

2014, d. Gareth Evans -- redbox

My wife came home about an hour into the film, sat down next to me and patiently tried to ignore the film and read her book.  I, meanwhile, was making those kinds of "ssssssssssss"/"oh hohohohoooo"/"oooooooh"/"chhhhhh" type sounds one makes when it looks like someone is getting hurt real bad.  A lot of people look like they're getting hurt real bad in The Raid 2.

My wife, having no investment in the film, stated that it was silly and not something she was interested in.  "It's like porn," she said, "but with fighting.  It just gets monotonous after a while."  I tried to defend the film to her, as she once had quite the strong draw towards kung-fu films.  She replied that kung-fu was never this egregiously violent, bloody or gory.

She's right, though, the Raid 2 is in some ways (most ways) just "fight porn"...high-minded fight porn, but fight porn nonetheless.  I recall David having a much similar reaction to The Raid: Redemption when we saw that together in our first (and, sadly, last Double Header).  Again, I also know David to be an admirer of the Shaw Brothers and their kung-fu ilk, so it astounds me that the admiration/appreciation doesn't extend far beyond the Chinese border.  Is it a theatricality thing?  Wardrobes, costumes, setting?  Camp factor?  It's not for me to say.

The story of the Raid was perilously thin, about a swat team of Jakarta cops assailing a slummy apartment tower to take out the drug kingpin on the top.  These types of "tower climb" scenarios aren't new (they've been a video game staple since the 1980's), and within the same year the exact same story was repeated in Dredd 3-D.  There were family ties involving our main character, and some mentions of police corruption and the crime syndicates, but overall it was a tightly executed film showcasing the tremendous fight choreography.

The Raid 2: Berandal endeavours to be something grandiose, the fighting equivalent to Godfather 2 or Infernal Affairs 2, but it's too jumbled, unfocussed and doesn't come close to reaching its goal.  It picks up mere hours after the end of the first film (not that the first film matters too much it's all recapped in the opening minutes) with rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) taking his corrupt police Seargent to the small anti-corruption task force.  Rama is basically bullied into joining the task force, going undercover to infiltrate the main crime family.  This involves getting put into jail and chumming up to the Boss' son, Uko.  After the first act and two rather incredible prison fight sequences (a super-impressive dozens-on-one fight in a bathroom stall, and a brutal and muddy three-sided prison-yard melee) the film almost drops Rama completely as the POV character, and chooses instead to focus on Uko, his strained relationship with his father, and his desire to prove himself worthy as a successor.

While well-produced and solidly acted, it's formula crime drama stuff, and it plods.  The Raid 2 is over 150 minutes long, and it could really stand to tighten it up by at least 45.  As much as sequences elaborating on assassins like Hammer Girl, Baseball Bat Guy, and Prasoko are really fun, eclectic diversions, they are fully extraneous to the plot and serve only to undermine the story at hand and push Rama even further into the background.  Again, though, it's like porn, where a film will cram in so many different asides just to see different people getting it on, this film does the same with fighting.

The ambition though is not lost on me, and the execution of its 19 fight sequences are indeed top notch.  Having seen so many polished, American big budget action movies where the fighting is so squeaky clean and so orchestrated to the nines, it's honestly refreshing to see the brutal, down-and-dirty fights that continually pop up in this film.  The fight sequence in the elevator of Captain America: Winter Soldier is definitely one-upped by the bathroom stall fight.  The Nick Fury car chase sequence of that same movie tops the car chase sequence in The Raid 2, but only by a hair.  The big axe fight in Snowpiercer has a definite rival in the prison courtyard fight.  Kill Bill's Crazy 88's are showier, but Prasoko's big one-on-dozens brawl is crazy.  And Rama's final assault has no less than three different fight sequences, one where he uses his car as a weapon, another squaring off against Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Guy in a wonderfully shot glass hallway, and culminating in a big old John Woo-style shoot out.

It's a crazy, brutal film, tiring and exciting in equal measure.  I can't say I would sit down to watch the whole picture again, but I would certainly come back to watch almost any of the fight sequences (afterall, who really watches porn for the story, nevermind re-watches) multiple times over.  Your mileage may vary.

(Just to give you a hint as to just how much action is in The Raid 2... this absolutely brutal and incredibly well-crafted gunfight sequence was cut from the film... not for the squeamish and definitely not safe for work)
You've been warned.