Remember those days as a teenager when you’d leave an action film so exhilarated, you’d start exchanging air jabs with your best friend in the theater lobby? The Raid 2: Berandal is that movie. Screening a mere three times at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, rabid fans scrambled to see an uncensored cut before the MPAA got its grubby hands on one of the best action films of all time. Some festival attendees even saw it twice. Writer/editor/director Gareth Evans’ appearance at the final screening, in Salt Lake City, was met by appreciative applause. “You don’t even know if it’s good yet,” said Evans, humbly, prior to the screening. But the audience knew. They were about to witness to something mind-blowing.
Evans’ two and a half hour crime opus has The Raid’s Rama (Iko Uwais), battered and bruised from his encounter with Tama, going deep undercover to flush out corruption by exposing dirty cops. Rama’s first assignment is a prison sentence, as he’s sent to the joint to build a relationship with the son of a corrupt businessman. Of course, Rama’s incarceration is only an excuse for a series of sweet-ass prison fight scenes featuring pencak silat, the Indonesian martial art Evans expertly stages and films. One of the director’s first major skirmishes, a prison riot set in a mud-strewn exercise yard, is shot with a masterful fluidity that makes Natural Born Killers look like a film school hack job. His always-moving camera sees all, and puts the audience right in the center of the action. Nobody films controlled carnage like Gareth Evans.
Once he’s out of the can, Rama continues to infiltrate the criminal enterprise, embedding himself deep into the corrupt family. Evans’ screenplay is packed with plenty of twists and turns, none of which I’ll divulge here, and the action set-pieces are good enough to make John Woo weep blood. Simply imagine a crime movie as deeply layered as The Departed or Goodfellas and then add some of the most viscerally thrilling martial arts to ever hit the screen. That, in a nutshell, is The Raid 2. Film bloggers struggled not to jizz all over themselves after the first screening, their engorged tweets straining under the 140-character limit. The love is completely understandable. The Raid 2 is that movie, one that sets a new standard for action films.