If The Raid 2: Berandal doesn’t end up as the most violent movie to hit screens in 2014, it won’t be for lack of trying. Gareth Evans’s sequel to his surprise 2011 hit takes the original’s basic formula – lots of people pounding on each other in close quarters – and simply stretches it over a much longer running time. In the time it takes undercover agent Rama (Iko Uwais) to elbow-smash his way through a packed rogue’s gallery of villains, you could almost watch Gravity twice.
The sheer abundance of plot information is one way that The Raid 2 differs from its predecessor, which was a very simple story: Lone-wolf hero fights his way to the top of a massive deathtrap. If The Raid felt vertical, The Raid 2 is more horizontal, with subplots and minor characters sprawling out in every direction.
The other difference is that Rama has gone from an unlikely underdog to a franchise hero. We know exactly what kind of havoc his lithe, compact body is capable of wreaking, and so the tone shifts from dread to delirious anticipation. For the first hour or so, The Raid 2 is fabulously controlled, cleverly delaying the inevitable hand-to-hand combat scenes as long as possible before unleashing an amazing one-two combination: a bathroom brawl that sees Oldboy’s hallway fight and raises it a couple dozen bodies, and a muddy prison-yard throw down that brings the guards – and their guns – into the equation.
It may seem odd to chide a movie for giving its audience too much of a good thing, and yet The Raid 2 is finally more exhausting than exhilarating. An early shot of Rama repeatedly striking a cement prison wall in frustration proves oddly emblematic. The movie is powerful and relentless, but for all its pounding, it doesn’t really get anywhere.