I’ve never really believed in the old idiom of “too much of a good thing,” being bad for you. Cullen Skink is a wonderful, wonderful thing and I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On a hot New Orleans night there’s little as refreshing as sipping a sweet Espresso Martini. The sunset splashing the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek blood-red is an awe-inspiring, unforgettable sight. And there just isn’t enough lesbian clown porn in the world.

However, even the most adoring, die-hard fan of the brutally simplistic, pulse-pounding shot of adrenaline straight to the heart that was Gareth Evans’ The Raid, will find it hard to justify the TWO AND A HALF HOURS of leeringly gratuitous, bloody, masturbatory mayhem that is his follow-up The Raid 2: Berandal. Some times too much is simply too much.

Picking up almost immediately where the original film left off, The Raid 2 throws its human ping pong ball hero Rama (Iko Uwais) straight into a dangerous undercover mission to infiltrate the crime cartel that rules Jakarta and get the goods on the crooked cops on its payroll. After cosying up to crime lord Bangun’s (Tio Pakusadewo) hot-tempered, Fredo-like son Uco (Arifin Putra) in stir and saving his life in a brutal prison yard brawl, upon his release Rama is in like Flynn and goes to work for the family, earning their trust and proving himself indispensable by beating seven shades out of drug dealing scumbag pornographers.

Bungun’s cartel is locked in an uneasy truce with a Japanese crime family, led by Goto (Ken ‘ichi Endo), who’ve maintained a relative peace for over a decade. But rising mobster Bejo (Alex Abbad) is nibbling away at their territories, stirring up trouble and whispering in the ambitious Uco’s ear in the hopes of starting a war on the streets, taking over both families’ empires. And Bejo is the man who murdered Rama’s brother…

Bigger, bloodier and more brutal than the first film, The Raid 2 is also pretty boring. The first movie was truly a movie, a propulsive engine constantly in motion, putting you on the edge of your seat from the first scenes of rookie cop Rama preparing for his first mission before almost immediately throwing its nimble hero into one extended, relentless, visceral fight scene that unfolds pretty much in real time as Rama battles to survive. A dazzling piece of balletic, ballistic cinematic mayhem, the temptation for writer/director Gareth Evans must have been to simply repeat The Raid’s winning formula for this sequel, to simply have the same shit happen to the same guy twice. Unfortunately, he doesn’t and there lies The Raid 2’s biggest problem. In the opening scene Evans’ bad guy Bejo delivers a speech about the dangers of hubris and ambition to a man he’s about to murder while standing by a freshly dug grave. By the end of the film Evans fills enough graves to people a cemetery but never quite reconciles his own ambitions to make a serious crime film with his instincts to serve up a chop-socky epic. And no chop-socky epic needs to be two and a half hours long!

The Raid 2 is flabby, baggy, lumbers when it needs to dance. The story is nothing special, Evans relying on that staple of crime flicks, the undercover cop plot, familiar to audiences from TV shows like Starsky And Hutch through to movies like Infernal Affairs and The Departed but he and leading man Uwais don’t have any fun with it, Rama never once being tempted by the siren song of the criminal life in the way Sonny Crockett was every other week on Miami Vice or that he feels the tiniest guilt or conflict about befriending and betraying the gangsters. Even after spending two years in prison winning the trust of his gangster buddy, Rama’s no fun, ignoring the advances of the karaoke hookers Uco tries to foist on him, Uwais, a charismatic but deeply limited actor, simply suffering through the needlessly convoluted scenes involving plot and dialogue until the next ‘cool’ fight scene where he can kick someone’s colon out of their nose.

And there lies another of The Raid 2’s problems; it’s aimed squarely at fanboy geeks who want nothing more than the next ‘cool’ fight scene. Bones are pulverised, eyes gouged, flesh rent as the characters beat each other with fists and feet, baseball bats and mops, slice and stab each other, empty machine guns into yielding bodies, splatter skulls with shotguns and hammers. Never has excessive, gratuitous violence been quite this tedious. Evans resurrects fan favourite Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog in the first film) for a couple of scenes, albeit as a different character – machete-wielding homeless assassin Prakoso – purely because fans will find it ‘cool’. A character is hacked to death in the snow (in tropical Jakarta where it never snows!) because it looks ‘cool’ and is probably what geek poster boy Tarantino would do while Quentin’s shadow also hangs heavy over instant fan favourite cardboard characters Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.

Po-faced and humourless, The Raid 2 is cynical, sadistic, just a little too in love with its visceral, fetishised violence, shot through with a nasty streak of misogyny. There are only five female characters in the film. One is Rama’s compliant wife who is in two scenes and meekly accepts his two-year absence. Three are sex workers, the two aforementioned karaoke hookers and a strap-on sporting porn star who anally rapes a male hitchhiker before being machine gunned, collateral damage in a strongarm deal gone bad, while the fifth woman is Hammer Girl, a deaf-mute assassin, denied a voice as well as anything approaching character. The fact that two die badly and Evans barely pauses in his mayhem to acknowledge their deaths leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Or maybe it’s all that blood that’s being sprayed around.

The film is beautifully shot but poorly paced, only springing into life when Uwais springs into action, the brawls inventive but ultimately monotonous, each visceral fight scene going on just that little bit too long; like a bad marriage they start out exhilarating before outstaying their welcome, becoming routine, boring, a slog, the relentless head bashing and body crunching exhausting and dispiriting. Life is apparently cheap in Jakarta, one massacre committed for just five grand, though whether that’s Indonesian rupiah or US dollars is never quite clear. Five grand isn’t much to die for but in rupiah it’s only 25 pence.

Perhaps the film’s best moment however isn’t its bruising, frequent fight scenes but one of its quieter. Alone in his cell at night, Rama trains by punching the outline of an opponent he’s chalked on the wall, his fists beating a tattoo, a flurry of blows hammering the plaster away from the brick. It’s a thoughtful, introspective beat among the wall-to-wall beatings.

But nothing I’ve said in this review really matters. If you loved The Raid, chances are you’ll probably like The Raid 2. But it’s a much harder film to love. And no chop-socky film needs to be two and a half hours long!

 

VERDICT: [rating=2]

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