There are a lot of assumptions that audiences generally have about sequels, which slightly change depending upon the genre in discussion. When it comes to action motion pictures, filmmakers usually attempt to make it "top" its predecessor when it comes to violence. If a feature left you sitting at the edge of your seat, viewers expect for the follow-up to pretty much have them on the floor. Most likely due to these preconceived notions, we're usually disappointed with the efforts made to create a more intense experience when they fail to meet our expectations. However, fans of the action genre want to see as many explosions and fights as possible, usually leading to a larger body count. The Raid 2: Berandal is a sequel to one of the best action films I've seen in the past decade, which instantly had me doubting how this would turn out. Writer/director Gareth Evans gives us exactly what we waned from a sequel, and manages to overcome nearly every negative assumption usually made about follow-ups.
Shortly after the events that transpired in the first film, Rama (Iko Uwais) is taken in by a group with very specific goals in mind. Not only are they trying to take out some of the largest crime lords, but they're also looking to eliminate the dirty cops who are in on it. In order to keep his family safe, Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta. This leads him to his most important, yet dangerous mission that he's had yet. If he underestimates any of his enemies, he just might end up dead.
If you've seen The Raid: Redemption, then you know that it's a very straight-forward and concise action flick that doesn't take very many breaks from the fights. Writer/director Gareth Evans utilizes that as his set-up for a story on a much larger scale. The chain of command in this operation is much more expansive than Rama expected to exist above the antagonist from the first film. He continues to get acquainted with the enemies, as he starts to earn their trust and gather more information. This isn't necessarily the most original story we've seen, but it works very well. It continues Rama's story in the way it should, as he's willing to do anything in order to keep his family safe. At the same time, these are some truly menacing antagonists that keep the story moving. Even with Rama's incredible fighting skills, it constantly feels as if he's in danger. He finds himself in the middle of a gang war that is beginning to unfold, and he has no choice but to get involved.
Even though The Raid 2: Berandal is more story and dialogue-driven than its predecessor, that doesn't mean that it's any less intense. In fact, I would consider it to be even more so. Not only are we more invested in Rama, meaning we're genuinely concerned when he's in trouble, but the body count is much larger. Rama isn't the only champion here, as quite a few talented fighters are taking down entire groups of men. It's most certainly more brutal than The Raid: Redemption. I'm actually quite surprised that this managed to avoid an NC-17 rating and get an R-rating. The fight sequences become so incredibly extreme, that I found myself gripping the armrest and clenching my jaw. Action films simply don't get more intense than this, as you'll constantly find yourself in awe of the brutality occurring on the screen in front of you. However, it all fits into the context of the story and it never outstays its welcome. I could watch these types of fighting sequences for hours and never get bored of them.
Even with the fitting story and the brilliant use of violence, The Raid 2: Berandal isn't perfect. I never found myself pulled out of the movie, but the story's pacing does drag a little bit. About fifteen minutes could have been left on the cutting room floor, and the film would have come across as being noticeably smoother. Keeping in mind that this is my only gripe, this is one of the most impressive action films that I have seen in quite some time. The further that you get into the running time, the more crazy that it becomes. Once you reach the climax of the film, you'll be in complete shock. Evans balances a magnificent build-up for the majority of the running time that will create a lot of tension amongst audiences. This is all due to the anticipation that you'll have leading up to the inevitable fight between Rama and the three insanely-strong antagonists known as Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), and The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman). Your heart rate will continue to increase and you won't want to blink, just to make sure that you don't miss a single second of the action.
If a given character survived in the first film, then they're back for the sequel. However, there's a plethora of new roles introduced. Iko Uwais is still front and center in this action film, as he tries to fight his way to freedom for himself and his family. Uwais does a marvelous job bringing him back to the big screen. He's quite believable and genuine, making it easy to sympathize with him. Since we get to learn more about him in this sequel, he gets a lot more to work with. One of the newer actors to this story is Julie Estelle in the role of Hammer Girl. She plays the character that people seem to be most excited to see, and this is rightfully so. Estelle does a wonderful job commanding the screen without speaking a single word. It's all about the body language, and she has most certainly mastered it. No matter how small the supporting role, the cast does a good job of keeping us massively entertained throughout.
Gareth Evans moves the camera more often than your average filmmaker. It creates a sense of excitement in the audience and makes it feel as if we're constantly running alongside Rama in his fights. Your typical action flick would be utilizing quick cuts, often making it difficult to see what's going on. Well, in The Raid 2: Berandal, Evans uses a lot of long shots and relatively long takes, making it easy to see every punch and kick. He has once against guaranteed that the film contains the best choreography that could possibly be incorporated. Every fight sequence looks absolutely phenomenal, just as we expected them to be. This is a man who knows how to utilize a budget in the best ways possible. The audio hits just as hard as the violence, making for an incredible overall experience at the cinemas.
While not absolute perfection, writer/director Gareth Evans has once again managed to go above and beyond expectations. Everything is bigger, yet pretty consistent, if not a little bit better than its predecessor. The story is much more expansive and there's a lot more dialogue, but the action itself has become much more intense and the body count is much larger. The antagonists are as intimidating as could be and you'll constantly get the feeling that Rama is in deep trouble, making for a fantastic cinematic experience. The Raid 2: Berandal is one of the most potent action films on the market that will leave you in awe. Highly recommended!