We are, of course much too classy to go with the “Electric Boogaloo” joke for the standfirst. A review by Danni Glover, who is blameless in respect of the foregoing.
Foreign cinema, eh? A lot of pouting French people smoking sadly out of windows. Heavy handed Italian fascism metaphors. Impenetrable East Asian tableaus of suffering. Claw hammers.
Well, maybe Godard never had a yard full of prisoners mud-wrestle with improvised weapons. More’s the pity. Not to worry, though, as Gareth Evans has returned with the highly anticipated sequel to his Indonesian violence-fest The Raid. Picking the story up just two hours after its predecessor left off, The Raid 2: Berandal shows Rama, the rookie with a heart of gold, in the unenviable position of entering a Jakarta prison to root out corruption in his own police force. There, he encounters Uco, the son of the local mob boss, and after a mere two years of false imprisonment (ostensibly spent bareknuckle boxing and pretending a career in the police is worth the stress) he successfully infiltrates the gang. If the plot seems both contrived and flimsy, that’s because it is, but when one considers the plot of The Raid – a police squadron enters a punch of flats, shoots, gets shot at, punches, emerges victorious (but at what cost?) – The Raid 2 is a narrative masterpiece. In fact, the addition of a plot is a welcome one. Previously, the only dramatic tension Iko Uwais had to play with was the impending arrival of his son, and who knows where that story thread got lost in the first film? In The Raid 2, Uwais delivers a nuanced performance, delivering dramatic moments with as much ease as he delivers visually slick pencak silat fight action. As far as just-want-my-family-back performances go, it’s far more Harrison Ford in The Fugitive than Nicolas Cage in Con Air. Thank heaven for small mercies.
Fans of the first film probably would have been satisfied if Evans had just replicated the tone and scope of the first film, but The Raid 2 feels like a film which has its own plan. Cinematographers Max Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono return, and they seem to thrive on having their film space opened wide up. Where The Raid was filmed in claustrophobically small spaces, which led to a constrictive sense of panic, of having nowhere to run, its sequel sweeps through expansive spaces – decadent penthouses, crop fields in front of industrial cityscapes, a plush hotel. There’s an extraordinary sequence in a prison yard which plays with the visual contrast between confinement and unbound energy that any good fight scene is able to articulate. This is a very good fight scene, actually, even if (or perhaps because) it reminded me of Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. That said, Flannery and Subhono are still at their most visually striking in those tight spaces, which may be down to Uwais’ compact frame being comfortable dominating in them. The performance of violence in this film is extraordinary. It’s a trope du jour of film criticism to speak about scenes of martial arts in terms of dance, but there’s a good reason that both genres employ choreographers. Uwais himself choreographs this film, just as he did the previous one, joining an impressive tradition of martial artist film stars who not only do their own stunts, but design them, and don’t pull punches on the realism and intensity.
It’s not only the violence which is visually striking, but also the framing. The grimy concrete of a Jakarta apartment block gives way to cityscapes, mirrored hallways, and a luxe hotel dining room which serves as the lair for Alex Abbad’s charismatic villain Bejo. It’s red. So are a lot of things in the luxury crime Technicolor of The Raid 2. Everything that can bleed does. Much of the aesthetic appeal of the film comes from the razor-sharp editing, also by Evans, who has one of the most definitive visual identities in British cinema. His films – in which I include Safe Haven, the stand-out short of last year’s V/H/S/2 – continue to improve. I always consider him as being in a class with Ben Wheatley, a man who also doesn’t have a bad film to his name, and who is also able to inspire laughter with a visual of a person’s head being caved in.
If I may divulge some details about the most entertaining aspect of the film, there are two new mostly silent but flawlessly expressive characters who up the bloodshed considerably. Their names? Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man. Their weapons? You’re smart enough to use the internet, figure it out. There’s been a lot of talk about visual aesthetics in this review but I want to diversify by saying the only comment I have about Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man is that they are awesome. You know that a character has struck a chord with an audience when they begin to chuckle expectantly at every on-screen appearance. Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man don’t just strike the chord, they bludgeon it. Yes, with these ordinary household items, you too can inspire a collective blood-boner in a dark auditorium of film fans. I wish they had their own movie. It’s an almost martial-arts-B-movie slice of humour which is the kind of thing that makes Evans’ films stand out from the crowd. Really, why would you go and see whatever Liam Neeson is scowling his way through this week, when you know it’s going to be a compromised 12a with a generic ten minute firefight scene in 3d and you know it’s going to be po-faced and samey and completely without glee in its violent exuberance?
We now return to our feature presentation. “It’s a matter of ambition, really,” says Bejo during the opening scene. Indeed. Evans now has plans to turn the films into a trilogy and if this film is anything to go by the format and characters are far from stale. Is it premature to get excited about The Raid 3 already? I’m going to pass the time by watching The Raid 2: Berandal and practicing pencak silat.
Danni Glover is also known as @danvestite. The Raid 2: Berandal is out today.