At a runtime of 150 minutes, The Raid 2: Berandal takes a while to get going, and that’s a strange thing to say about a film that opens with an execution.
We pick up hours after the conclusion of 2011’s staggeringly action-packed The Raid: Redemption with not-so-rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), still bleeding from the ill-fated raid on a 16-story drug lord stronghold, delivering the crooked police lieutenant Wahyu to Bunawar, the head of an internal affairs unit. In order to weed out corruption in the highest ranks of Jakarta’s police force, Bunawar convinces Rama to go undercover as a common prison thug, arresting him for the brutal beating of a politician’s son with the eventual hope that Rama ingratiate himself with Uco (Arifin Putra), an overambitious crime boss’ son serving time.
The Raid 2 spends its first hour setting up a vast, entangled web of characters whose motivations and alliances are rarely immediately clear. Returning writer-director Gareth Evan’s handling of such a large scope both works and doesn’t. To his credit, the film never overtly explains the significance of each narrative thread, relying instead on blink-and-miss-it visual storytelling. It can be a lot to take in at times, especially if all you’re expecting is more of the relentless, bone-crunching fight sequences from the original. It is a welcome addition, though, that rewards its audience and in turn makes every action set piece feel earned (and boy, there are many, and they are incredible).
There are moments, however, when the lack of explanation translates to the film abandoning its primary narrative in favor of fringe characters whose most significant traits are defined by their respective weapons of choice (see: Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man). Evans the Action Director more than justifies the presence of these characters—Evans the Director of Drama, not so much. (A troubling example of this is when Rama disappears for almost 45 minutes in service of a subplot featuring a sad, machete-wielding homeless assassin with baby issues that never ends up affecting the plot as much as the time devoted to it would suggest.)
For its uneveness, The Raid 2 nevertheless lands the big hits with surgical accuracy, rightly focusing its attention on the impossibly well-choreographed action. For The Raid series going forward, I take it as a good sign that, even with bits of broken teeth lining their throats, these characters have a lot more to say.