“The Raid 2: Berendal” is the most violent movie ever made. The exploding heads, slit, gurgling throats and claw-hammer crunches and tears are so excessive as to make the works of Pekinpah, Tarantino and torture porn king Eli Roth seem almost quaint in retrospect.
Excessively complicated and excessive in length, it stands in stark contrast to writer-director Gareth Evans’ original film, a tight, visceral martial arts thrill ride that had one good cop (Iko Uwais) battling his way out of a mob-controlled apartment complex filled with villains. Rama (Uwais) was the last man standing, as corrupt police officials refused to send back-up and mobsters sent wave upon wave of cutthroats, kickboxers and gunmen to finish him off.
“Raid 2” still has Rama, but is more interested in viscera than the visceral, more wrapped up in confusing subplots than streamlined simplicity. It’s more about the blood and injuries sustained by hammers, machetes, box cutters and shotguns than about Rama or his latest quest. And that’s a serious shortcoming.
Our hero is sent deep undercover, into prison, where he does two years time, cozying up to and protecting Uco, the pretty boy son of a mob boss (Arifin Putra). Once out, he’s accepted into Uco’s dad’s gang. The idea is he’ll help ferret out corrupt cops who protect Bangun and his gang, the Japanese Goto gang, and the “half-Arab” wild card, the glove-wearing, cane-carrying opportunist Bejo (Alex Abbad).
Simple enough. But gleaning that from the panoply of characters played by unfamiliar actors while reading subtitles (it’s in Indonesian) takes some work. And that’s not really where Evans’ strength lies.
“Raid 2” is best regarded as a series of epic set pieces, fights that could be labeled and promoted the way prize fights often are.
There’s the Slaughter in the Snow. Then, the Punchout in the Prison Yard, where convicts kick, chop and stab as they’re writhing in the mud of a torrential rain.
The Butchery in the Bar introduces the skills of an older shaggy and unkempt hitman (Yayan Ruhian) who must take on all comers once he’s outlived his usefulness. Ruhian is the fight choreographer for this picture, and the best things in it are to his credit.
Murder on the Metro involves the petite, hammer-wielding “Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), a ballerina when it comes to hammer-blows.
And so on.
The brawls are always crowded, but always broken down to individual combat. None of the villains seem clever enough to figure out, “Let’s RUSH him.” Rare is the engagement where guns play a big part. Those usually turn up in the car chases — a couple of dazzling ones — where Rama dodges assassins with shotguns and the like.
Evans cuts the fights into visually striking blurs of sound and fury. And there are so many fights that he had a lot of practice editing them into coherent, heart-pounding engagements.
But there are too many. And everything between the brawls is dull exposition, older gangsters trying to keep the peace, cops straining to stay a step or two behind the mob and bungling their loose reins on their man inside the mob, and younger gangsters plotting to turn this Indonesian world upside down.
Anthony Burgess’ phrase, “the old ULTRA-violence,” from “A Clockwork Orange” comes to mind at about the tenth gory stabbing, grisly slashing or gruesome bludgeoning that Evans serves up here. This is eye-averting stuff for all but the most hardened and emotionally disconnected. It is explicit video-game style violence, with Rama enduring beatings and hammer blows and deep cuts and yet somehow, fresh enough to tackle the next Clash in the Kitchen or Taekwondo in the Taxi (a particularly inventive and memorable fight).
“The Raid” was a great action film in which the violence, excessive though it was, served as obstacles in the hero’s simple quest. In “Raid 2” the violence is the movie, its excess used to cover for an inept story, thinly-drawn characters and dead spots. Cut this by 45 minutes and it would be no less confusing, but at least it would be a movie with all “cool scenes,” gory as they are.
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language
Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad,Yayan Ruhian Yayan Ruhian, Julie Estelle
Credits: Written and directed by Gareth Evans. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 2:28