Friday, April 11, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal


   If anyone wanted to know my thoughts on the first movie, I shall put links to both of my glowing reviews here and here. I absolutely loved the first movie. It was brutal, bloody, and simply... insane. If anything can be said for Berandal, right off the bat, it's way more brutal, way more bloody, and way more insane. As far as successors go, this is everything a sequel can aspire to in order to trump the original. It is essentially a love letter to action movies in general. It takes a page from Hong Kong crime thrillers, John Woo shoot-em-ups, and of course... martial arts movies. It is essentially all of this, and at the same time... it's also something more.

   90% of this review will probably be me trying to find ways to describe how amazing it was simply to convince you to see it. If you're not the kind that would need five more paragraphs in order to get your ass in the theaters to see something you're already sure you wanna see- stop now, buy a ticket, and go see it. Now. If you wanna read anyways- well go ahead. I can't stop you. I'm not the internet police or anything. I'm just writing this thing.

  Anyways... let me get the negatives out of the way. I guess this is semi-spoileristic? You've been warned. Okay. First off, somehow they brought back the actor who played Mad Dog in the first movie. Bad move, in my opinion at least. Even though he's playing a different character, it still feels weird. Like... they try to make him look different, but it doesn't work. My first reaction was "How the hell did he survive getting his throat gashed wide open and losing 90% of the blood in his body?" then I realize it's not the same character. It's jarring... and weird... and just unnecessary. You mean to tell me, there is NO other actor that could've played the role? Tch. Not likely.

   Secondly, Mike Shinoda doesn't do any music for the movie. While the return of Joseph Trapanese is fantastic, Mike Shinoda's "Razors Out" was a fantastic theme for the first movie. It capped the movie with gusto and was stuck in my head for weeks. I was looking forward to a new theme from him for this one, but alas... Moving on though, since that's not a major complaint at all or anything. Just a minor grumble. The plot actually kinda bugged me. It takes cues from big gangster flicks, specifically HK organized crime films. And just like most of them, it gets crazy convoluted. I mean, since practically 99% of all the humans even in this movie are villains I don't really see why it had to get so complicated.

  The plot is ambitious in how it tries to be a major crime syndicate movie thing, but it just felt confusing at times. Granted, I've barely had any sleep in the past couple days, and the action in this movie is physically exhausting, so I just may have not had the attention span for it. However, I stand by my assessment. I think the plot was cumbersome. There were so many names thrown at us... Koso, Bangun, Topan, Goto, Eka, Bejo, Bunawar, Uco, and more- that it's hard to keep track. I kept thinking- "Who are they talking about? Did I miss someone?" Then I realized, some people don't get but seconds of screentime despite having a major impact on the plot. It's slightly confusing. Not enough to completely baffle me, I could follow it, but it took more effort than I expected. Again, could be just me and my self induced insomnia getting in the way, but... I doubt it.

   As for the positives... where do I even begin? Editor, writer, and director... Gareth Evans.
The man is clearly an action genius. As if the first movie didn't convince us of that, there's this uber-violent sequel to hammer the point home. He takes fighting, shooting, and bloodshed in general and elevates it to a veritable art form. Never has a movie so gritty and unrelentingly bloody, looked so damn good. And I say that as an artist myself. I love movies with visual flair, and Evans has the knack. This movie is shot beautifully. He knows all the right moments to use slow motion, or jolt the camera. Not to mention his use of colors. Fantastic cinematography all the way around. This guy... action movies are going to quickly run out of ways to keep up with Gareth Evans.

   Iko Uwais has all the fire and gusto of your average Hollywood action star in his prime- and the martial arts skills to put 'em all to shame. He is a veritable force of nature as per usual. Maybe even more. He's also a damn fine actor regardless. He lends gravitas to his role, which... lets face it, could've been played by a totally bland actor and so long as he could pull off the necessary physicality, complaints about his acting would've been footnotes among the praise if anything. Yet, Uwais brings palpable emotions to the table. When he's tired, you're tired. When he hurts, you hurt for him. When he misses his family, it's heartbreaking. Of course, like I said, this would be moot if he couldn't believably punch, kick, shoot, and slice his way through hordes of enemies. Which... he can. Amazingly well too. He's as close to a super-man as any human actor could possibly get in a role like this and still maintain a modicum of realism.

  Speaking of hordes though, that's something that struck me funny this time around. How every bad guy has hordes of thugs at his disposal ready willing and able to throw their lives away at their boss' whim. This is what teetered on unbelievable to me. Only two men in the entire movie seem to have the common sense to run the fuck away from the guys trying to kill them. Who are clearly able to murder you in seconds flat. By this point, any number of said thugs have seen at least 10 to 20 of their fellow thugs murdered in the most gruesome manners imaginable. I would back the hell up and run away. These guys must ALL be dense. I dunno, it's the Stormtrooper trope, yet the first movie was able to justify it better.

   Alas...

   Back to the cast. Everyone here sells their roles admirably. From sinister mob bosses, to double-crossing gang lords, to undercover cops and insane martial arts assassins. These characters are rich, interesting, and very well acted. The movie doesn't lose an ounce of the villainy we came to love in the first. The bad guys here are ruthless, psychotic, and some are even... dare I say, honorable? Everything comes to it's own crazy climax though, and with so many sub-plots I'm surprised that the movie was able to cap them all satisfyingly. Which it did a great job of doing.

  Finally, I must talk about the #1 star of the movie. The violence. It actually sells it short to call it "action" here. That is a neatly packaged word that is too tame and nice for the content of this movie. The fighting in this movie is straight up violence. Movies like Mission: Impossible or The Avengers have action. Movies like The Raid 2, and trust me... there aren't many, have violence. There is so much blood spilled, bones snapped, guts sliced open, and faces just... generally obliterated that there is no mistaking why you came to see this movie. You came to see mayhem and carnage. Choreographed carnage. It's gorgeous. It's brutal, gritty and gorgeous. It belongs to a whole other level of "action" movies.  It satisfies some carnal need for more, and more. More fighting, more kicking, more punching, more realistic, more blood, more stabbing, more shooting, more violence. The thing that makes The Raid 2 so powerful is that it gives you more than even you know you want. Just when you think you've had enough... it firmly says "Nope, hold on... we got even more for you."

  Like many have already said, The Raid 2 knows that too much, in this case, is the perfect amount. I can't even disagree. A reviewer on iMDB said about the 2008 Rambo film that it was "Pornography of violence" and he wasn't saying that as a compliment. However, I think that phrase is rather brilliant and before I eagerly tack it onto The Raid 2, lets look closer at it for a second. Pornography does what precisely? It takes the act of sex and boils it down to an exploitative machination of the reproductive organs.  People often say, "You don't watch porn for the story..." or acting, or plot, or what have you. Why do you watch it? Because of the sex. There's no mistaking that. If you're watching porn, you know you're watching it for the sex. Raw, uncensored, graphic... sex. And it better be good sex, or it's bad porn. So essentially, there's a craft to it. Yeah? Same with violence in action movies. Nobody is fooling themselves when they go to see a movie like this. They want to see the violence. Raw, uncensored, graphic... violence. So to call The Raid 2 "Pornography of violence" is dead-on.

  You all know why you want to see this movie, and I'm telling you right now, it delivers. Gareth Evans has the knack for this craft. I could extend this into a debate about how healthy it is to subject oneself to two and a half hours of violence like that- but like porn, it's an escape. See Don Jon for more details on that. However, it is fantasy nonetheless. An adrenaline fueled testosterone fantasy. And before this review gets any deeper into the science of the how and why, I'm just gonna say... it's so intense that I literally couldn't sit calmly through most of the movie. It's so in your face and exciting that I was physically exhausted by the end. I wanted to cheer and I most certainly applauded. It is an experience not to be missed by action junkies. Not for casual viewers though. I know many many people who simply would not be able to sit through this movie. The bloodshed and bone-breaking is non stop and hits with the impact of a freight train.

  When all is said an done, The Raid seems like a test run in comparison. The Raid 2 is a showcase of the master's refined skill, delivering two and a half hours of non-stop violent "action" and gut-wrenching excitement. I can't recommend it enough if this is up your alley. The term "greatest action movie ever!" is being thrown around a lot, and while I would subject that in itself to scrutiny, I'm not going to try and stop that phrase from spreading, because the more it does... hopefully, the more people see it. And lord knows, it deserves to be seen. No, it deserves to be experienced.

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