Sequels to hit motion pictures are always a dubious proposition, especially action sequels which very rarely live up to their predecessors, let alone surpass them. 2014’s The Raid 2: Berandal is one of the rare exceptions to the rule, however. Written and directed yet again by Gareth Evans, this sequel to 2012’s The Raid: Redemption confidently raises the bar for contemporary action movies, with astonishing scenes of martial arts that most likely will never be topped. Whereas its predecessor was a small-scale action fiesta, Berandal is closer to The Departed (or Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong film which spawned it) as it’s imbued with a denser story and it’s much bigger in scale. Nevertheless, it feels like an organic continuation, and it delivers the type of bone-crunching fights and breathtaking action beats that the niche audience expect to see.

Picking up mere hours after the events of the previous flick, police officer Rama (Iko Uwais) is recruited to take part in a covert undercover operation which hopes to expose the city’s corrupt police. Sent deep undercover as a prison inmate, Rama wins the trust of Uco (Arifin Putra), a pretty-boy gangster whose father heads a powerful crime family. Rama serves two years behind bars, after which he’s accepted into the Bangun crime family alongside Uco. Rama’s incredible fighting skills render him a valuable asset, and, before long, he’s at the centre of the family’s criminal machinations, struggling to maintain his integrity along the way. As a war burgeons, Uco becomes increasingly unstable and unpredictable.

Berandal actually started life as an original film, intended to be produced not long after Evans’ 2009 feature Merantau. However, after funding fell through, Evans opted for a smaller project which became The Raid. Subsequently, Evans possessed the clout that he needed to finally produce Berandal, retooling the screenplay to follow on from The Raid, therefore justifying the movie’s existence beyond mindless cash grab. It’s a massive credit to Evans that Berandal is as smooth as it is. There’s a dense narrative at play here, with plenty of story to work through over the gargantuan two-and-a-half hour runtime, yet the film at no point feels like homework. Evans perpetually maintains a glorious pace, deploying action sequences when necessary to give viewers a jump-start before boredom can set it. Even more laudable is that it’s surprisingly easy to keep tabs on the sizeable ensemble, ensuring that you’ll never mistake one character for another. It is a bloated effort, and at least one or two subplots feel indulgent (especially one minor character who’s given his own subplot for no compelling reason), but the movie nevertheless comes together and works well enough.

Despite the bigger scale, Berandal is permeated with the same tone and style as its predecessor, with similar digital photography and grimy locales. Without the constraints of a single building, the action feels unconfined, allowing for plenty of hand-to-hand combat in a variety of settings, and there’s even a stunning car chase for good measure. Production for this follow-up was ongoing for the better part of eight months, with the final fight scene alone reportedly taking up to six weeks to choreograph and shoot. As a result, Berandal contains arguably the greatest scenes of martial artistry in cinematic history, stylishly photographed by cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono. To be sure, the camera movements are a bit on the jittery side as fists, blades and feet fly, but it’s easy to discern what’s going on, and the style results in heightened intensity. Evans employed dozens of talented fighters, and puts every single one of them to good use. There is not a single punch or kick which looks faked, and there are so many painful falls and brutal deaths that one must wonder if any of the stunt guys landed in hospital as a result.

Berandal is a vicious movie, convincingly earning its R-rating before the five-minute mark with the image of a shotgun blast obliterating a human head. Also outstanding is a lengthy kitchen brawl in which Rama goes toe-to-toe with a fighter of almost equal ability, resulting in violence so visceral and merciless that you’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time. Evans likely used minor digital effects to depict various wounds as he did with the original movie, but once again it’s more or less seamless. Berandal also benefits from a stellar cast, with Uwais showing himself to be both an awesome fighter and a solid leading man. However, its Putra as Uco who dominates the movie, coming across as a suave, psychopathic villain. Other outstanding new additions include Julie Estelle and Very Tri Yulisman, who play a brother and sister duo with incredible fighting abilities. Estelle wields dual hammers in ways that make Oldboy look tame, while Yulisman uses an aluminium baseball bat to hugely painful effect. It’s spectacular.

Although there’s no denying the jaw-dropping competence of the fight scenes, a number of the conflicts do grow repetitive, and more variety to the action could’ve catapulted the movie into the stratosphere. Sure, there is a breathtaking car chase, but shootouts are all too rare, which is completely baffling considering that these gangsters should have an arsenal of guns, and it’d be a lot easier for them to just shoot Rama when he engages in fisticuffs with them. This aside,The Raid 2: Berandal is a home run which doesn’t fall victim to usual sequel pratfalls. It may be bigger and better, but it doesn’t lose sight of what made The Raid a cult success in the first place.

7.8/10