When Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans made 2011's The Raid: Redemption, he didn't have time for self-indulgence. Clocking in at 101 minutes and set almost entirely in a single inner-city apartment complex over the course of a few hours, that film distilled the modern action flick to its most primal essence: a perfect storm of fists, feet, bullets, and blades that moved so swiftly and furiously that we never even had a chance to catch our breath.
The Raid 2: Berandal is a bigger movie in every sense of the word. It's an overstuffed epic that spans more than two years in the life of its hero, a likable and dutiful Jakarta cop named Rama (Iko Uwais). In Redemption, Rama was tasked with cleaning out a 15-story building infested with criminals; in Berandal, his job description seems to involve beating up everyone in Jakarta. If Redemption was a bone-snapping ballet, Berandal is a sprawling symphony of carnage that plays out in a series of brutal, gory smackdowns. At two and a half hours, the overall effect is exhausting rather than exhilarating, and a considerable portion of the running time is devoted to the sort of convoluted organized-crime machinations that are more at home in a Takeshi Kitano movie than a Raid sequel, but Evans still delivers some of the most stunning and deliriously over-the-top action sequences in recent memory.
The story picks up immediately after the events of Redemption. Rama has stumbled into a nest of corrupt cops and he agrees to go undercover to ferret them out, with the understanding that his bosses will protect his wife and infant son in return. The operation requires Rama to cozy up to Uco (Arifin Putra), the short-fused son of a Jakarta crime boss.
Rama's commitment to the ruse is impressive, and he ends up serving a two-year prison sentence in order to gain Uco's trust. Upon his release, Rama is hired into Uco's family business, where he serves as muscle and babysitter to the increasingly volatile scion. When Uco's dad refuses to move his son up through the ranks, Rama accidentally becomes embroiled in Uco's ill-conceived plot to take over the family business by starting a turf war with a competing crime organization. The mayhem is brokered by a cartoonish psychopath named Bejo (Alex Abbad), who sees in Uco a chance to expand his own foothold in the Indonesian underworld.
The plot is needlessly convoluted and I'm honestly a bit fuzzy on some of the mechanics of it, but all you really need to know is this: There will eventually come a point where almost everyone in the movie wants to kill everyone else. From its first action scene—a grungy prison melee that finds Rama taking on a surging throng of foot soldiers in a tiny bathroom stall—to the astonishingly complex one-on-one brawl that caps off the movie, Evans and his team go to dizzying lengths to raise the bar they set in Redemption.
The sheer amount of bodily damage meted out on screen is numbing, from an early, mud-coated prison riot to a spectacularly gory sequence that pits a trainload of bodyguards against a woman wielding a pair of claw hammers. There's a more marked tendency toward stylistic tics in Berandal than in its predecessor—nearly every fight scene is preceded by a tense standoff that unfolds in slow-motion—but Evans is inventive enough to make those flourishes seem organic and fun. He also proves that his skills as an action director aren't limited to hand-to-hand combat and shoot-outs. The fight scenes, once again choreographed by Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian, are dazzling and elaborate, but one of the most memorable set pieces is a car/motorcycle-chase sequence that's nothing short of bananas.
The often gimmicky action sequences make Berandal feel episodic in nature, and that would be a problem if audiences were showing up for the story. But, if we're being completely honest, no one really cares what happens to Rama—we just want to see Rama happen to as many people as possible, and Berandal does that with style and aplomb. Even if it doesn't feel as fresh and sleek as its predecessor, there's a great deal of fun to be had here, especially during the frenzied, blood-drenched finale.