First off, let me just say that The Raid 2: Berandal is awesome. The fight scenes are some of the best committed to film and the characters, as one-dimensional as they can often be, are memorable. The choreography, cinematography, and editing are some of the best I’ve ever seen in an action film. I’m going to criticize the movie, but only because it serves a larger point. If you were on the fence about seeing this movie hop on down – it’s worth your time and money. Maybe worth it twice.
With that said, I do have an issue with The Raid 2 that I think can be learned from. That issue is one of scope. The first Raid was a tightly plotted, well-paced film. It was simple: The cops wanted to take down a drug kingpin within the walls of a residential complex. When they went in they were found out and the kingpin enlisted everyone who lived in the complex to help kill all of the cops. There were a few complications, the consequences of which spilled over into the sequel, but for the most part it was straightforward. The goals and the stakes were relatively easy to understand.
The Raid 2, perhaps suffering from a case of sequelitis, goes much larger. Rama, the protagonist, is enlisted to go deep undercover and take down the crime lords that run the entire city. And there are two main families that run the city, each with sons and henchmen that get screen time. Not to mention there is a third criminal that aims to chip off a piece of territory for himself. It becomes a lot to handle and a lot for the film to juggle without losing the audience.
Mostly, I think it does an admirable job. As I mentioned before, even though there are a lot of characters many of them are memorable if not particularly fleshed out. Gareth Evans, the writer/director/editor, chooses gives each henchman (for lack of a better term) something unique about them. There is “Hammer Girl,” a partially blind and deaf woman that fights with hammers, her brother “Baseball Bat Man,” whom uses a baseball bat and baseball as his weapon of choice, “The Assassin,” a highly skilled fighter who relies on sickle-like blades, and Prakoso, played by an actor from the original that steals every scene he’s in. The problem with all of these characters is that they begin to distract from the main plot. Prakoso, especially, could have been easily excised or combined with another character. As much as I love that actor and all of his skills, his subplot didn’t really go anywhere and his character wasn’t developed or important enough to warrant the amount of time we spend with him.
The biggest problem with all of this is that, while we’re learning just how deep the rabbit hole goes, we’re not spending time with the protagonist. There is probably a good 15-20 minutes straight in the middle of the movie where Rama is either entirely absent or relegated to the background. He is our sheperd through this world and for him to go missing for long stretches of time hurts the overall flow of the film.
However, with such a large scope I did feel a greater sense of tension. As Rama discovers all of these dangerous characters and learns how they’re connected you do feel overwhelmed right along with him. There was a point during the climactic fight scene (which itself is surprisingly small and intimate compared to other set-pieces) where I legitimately wondered if Rama was too beaten down and Evans would actually kill off his main characters. That’s not an easy accomplishment and a lot of that has to do with the amount of dangerous people we meet. I felt like anyone at any moment would be a match for Rama.
In my own work, if I were to ever attempt something so large and complicated, I would try to keep a tighter focus. The Time Bubble has a fairly large scope but I made sure to keep everything that happened from the perspective of the main character. The audience is never too far ahead of him because they don’t know anything he doesn’t. I did this in an attempt at not overwhelming the audience with characters and plot. The Raid 2: Berandal might have benefited from a similar approach; More time with Rama and less meeting all of these other characters.
Again, though, I can’t stress enough what a great action film this is. I had issues with the scope and losing Rama for portions of the film, but it really is kind of a small quibble. The other characters are interesting to follow and the fight scenes are some of the best I’ve seen. Even the scope, myriad characters, and complicated plot are all handled competently. But sometimes an issue like that can be the difference between a great film and a legitimate classic.