My final two films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival happened to be my most anticipated. With Sundance typically associated with the most original fare found at the local art house theaters, it’s unusual to find many sequels during the festival. Considering the originals were Sundance films, it’s fun to revisit the past with new installments. Unfortunately, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead fails to live up to expectations; on the other hand, The Raid 2: Berandal knocks it out of the park.
Picking up right where the first Dead Snow left off, we catch up with poor Martin (Vegar Hoel) as he’s attacked by Colonel Herzog (Ørjan Gamst) finds a piece of Herzog’s sought after Nazi gold in his car. If you don’t happen to revisit the original before plopping down for the sequel, have no fear; a quick recap brings everyone up to speed. After managing to escape from Herzog’s clutches, Martin finds himself in the hospital where they successfully reattached his arm. Unfortunately, the arm really belongs to Herzog, granting Martin the power to resurrect the dead — something that comes in very handy when he needs to battle Herzog’s Nazi-zombie battalion in a fight to the err… death.
With Dead Snow 2, co-writer/director Tommy Wirkola has decided to flip the coin on his films. Where the original was more of a horror movie filled with some rather brilliant moments of visual gags and movie references, now he resorts to making a flat-out comedy with lots of gore. Perhaps Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters went to Wirkola’s head, as he introduces new American characters who uninspiringly call themselves “Zombie Squad.” Lead by Martin Starr, these characters exist for the sole purpose to broaden the films appeal — something that obviously isn’t needed considering the sequel exists in the first place.Wirkola has single-handedly ripped the heart out of his own film.
Filled to the brim with even more gore than the original, these moments work best in small doses and surprisingly get boring as the battle wages on between the four living, and the rest of the undead. The best Wirkola and co-writers Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel can come up with are the most obvious with characters stopping to explain the references. Considering they’re mainly focused on Star Wars shows that they didn’t need to. Let the visual references sort themselves out, fanboys will get them, the force is strong with them (this is the kind of joke to expect FYI). Wirkola looked like his career was going to be promising after Hansel & Gretel and the first Dead Snow; however, now it looks like it’s headed for a quicker death than any of the resurrected in Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead.
On the other hand, Gareth Evans brings everything that made The Raid: Redemption such a success and raised the bar. Yes, The Raid 2: Berandal is going to be the best action film of the year, and my favorite film of the festival. The question is, how mutilated will its theatrical release be? Things here are even more wild and bloody and there’s no way the cut shown at Sundance will make it through the MPAA. At least seeing how the first film made its way to Blu-ray in an unrated cut means that fans will eventually get to see it as originally intended. Something I absolutely cannot wait to watch over and over. Buzz around Sundance was making the comparison that The Raid 2 is to The Raid as The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins. Does it live up to that kind of hype? Absolutely!
Picking up shortly after the first film ends, we find Rama’s (Iko Uwais) brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah) quickly dispatched by the film’s villain Bejo (Alex Abbad). Rama wants revenge, and is asked to join an undercover unit to infiltrate the Jakarta crime lords and flush out the corruption within the police force. Now, Rama finds himself imprisoned where he must earn the trust of Ucok (Arifin Putra), son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), who leads the syndicate in conjunction with the Japanese, lead by Goto (Kenichi Endo). With the help of Bangun’s right hand man Eka (Oka Antara), Rama must now fight his way through the syndicate leading him on a fight to the finish against not only the crime bosses, but their deadly assassins Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), and the deadliest of all, Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian, aka Mad Dog from the first film).
Bigger is definitely better in Berandal, as Gareth Evans stages the most elaborate and mindbogglingly filmed action scenes the likes we’ve never seen. For anyone who thinks that action movies have been getting a little mundane over the years, Berandal is a much needed shot of adrenaline. Many shots appear as one take, but most of the extended shots actually consist of as many as 15 different takes. I could go on and on about how amazing the film is, but anyone who’s seen the first Raid knows what to expect — to a point. There are some huge set pieces to assault the senses and Evans’ career is about to explode, but we can only hope that his films remain a one-show pony as they have been. There’s no need for Evans to go mainstream because his films already have an audience. And considering he’s already working on The Raid 3 shows there’s no slowing him down and that we all have something to look forward to.
Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute