Chris Hemsworth returns for insane action and not much else in Extraction 2, directed by Sam Hargrave and available on Netflix.
What do we really want from action movies? Is there really a need for an intricate plot with twists and turns? Or multi-faceted characters with engrossing backstories? Or some kind of emotionally challenging element meant to make an audience think? Sure, those elements help certain films go from interesting to iconic. But on the most basic level, an action movie has to live up to its name with intense fist fights, vehicular mayhem, a ballet of bullets, and a hefty slop of slow motion-assisted macho posturing. Then again, that’s just at the base level. Sound and fury are fun in short bursts, but is a near constant stream of it impressive or exhausting? If a movie has a punch out, a knife fight, big machine guns against a helicopter, and a train crash all in an impressive sequential fashion, is that awe-inspiring or simply the bare minimum?
Extraction 2, the sequel to the 2020 surprise Netflix hit, sees the shocking return of beer-swilling cliff-diving black mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth). It’s a shocking return because the first Extraction saw Tyler be beaten down, shot in the neck, and sunken in a Bangladesh river. But by sheer force of will (and Netflix algorithms, presumably), Tyler survives and spends nine months rehabbing from his last impossible stunt show (or impossible mission, whatever works best).
He’s then contracted by a mysterious figure (hi, Idris Elba?) to rescue a woman and her two children from an Eastern European prison, where they’re being held under the thumb of her gangster husband. With the help of twin specialists Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) and Yaz (Adam Bessa), Tyler maneuvers through prison riots, train assaults and emotional vacancy to get the mission done.
“You were clinically dead nine months ago.”
Netflix claims the first Extraction was watched by 99 million people. Whether that was due to the COVID pandemic locking us in our homes without a theater to go to or through genuine interest of a grimaced Thor punching his way out of a foreign country, the success of Extraction likely came from shared clips of the movie’s one-take action scenes. One-take scenes have become a gift and a curse in movies over the last decade or so, sometimes being genuinely impressive feats of stunt work and direction when done right but other times overly long and unnecessary as a means to hide edits when done wrong.
There’s a 20 minute stretch in the first act of Extraction 2 that has some of the best action filmmaking in a good while. Returning director Sam Hargrave (formerly a stunt coordinator for the latter Hunger Games and Avengers movies) and his team breathlessly move the audience with Tyler as he battles near a furnace, through a prison riot, during a car chase and even a train escape. All of that mayhem has a good flow and consistency to it, going from agile hand-to-hand combat to persistent (and occasionally ridiculous) gunplay and back again with Hargrave knowing exactly when to get the camera close for maximum impact and when to pull back to show the scale of the chaos.
There are moments when our heroes look a bit too invincible, like when Hemsworth punches a prisoner while his arm is still on fire from a Molotov cocktail. But it’s hard not to smile when Extraction 2 just gives up its pretense of gritty realism and makes its protagonist look like a character from the Tekken video games.
Just another generic, dour shoot-em-up.
Unfortunately, that jaw-dropping 20-minute chunk is pretty early on in a 122-minute feature that can’t keep up with that momentum. While it has a few other flashes of intense fun later on, Extraction 2 is mostly just another generic, dour shoot-em-up with vague hints of globe trotting, character drama, macho posturing, and gray skies. It copies plot points from prior action highs in the era of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, including a winter training montage straight out of Rocky IV and a final confrontation with a kid hostage that doesn’t come close to the finale of Commando.
It’s baffling how from all their experience with Captain America and the last Avengers movies, producers/co-writers Anthony and Joe Russo still haven’t learned how to pen fun or clever dialogue. They try to give Tyler some more backstory with a dead son and ex-wife that just so happens to be the sister of the woman he’s trying to rescue, but they only share about three scenes of “meaningful” words together before he’s back to barking tactical orders and reloading his AR-15. The villains are such basic bearded European baddies that you could’ve sworn they were already mowed-down in a prior John Wick movie. Not even a surprise Idris Elba casting can liven-up the drab filler whenever Extraction II doesn’t have its foot on the gas.
Incredible cinematography and stuntwork. Shame about the rest of the movie, though.
And then there’s Hemsworth, whose talents might not be being used to the best of their abilities. Don’t get me wrong, the grizzled Aussie has the build and body hair to be an action star on par with Arnold and Sly. He does the scrunched tough-guy face exceptionally well and looks to have the superhuman stamina to punch through a prison yard and get stabbed multiple times with minimal effect on him. But some of the greatest action movies ever made still need to have some charm to them and Hemsworth decided his Tyler Rake works best as a sour puss.
He doesn’t bring any kind of levity or smooth charisma to the role, merely being the main cog in the fight scene machine that adds to the overall blandness of the movie. It’s the thing that separates the friendly earnestness of Schwarzenegger from the dull stoicism of Steven Seagal and while Hemsworth is no Olivier, he’s proven multiple times to have more charisma and energy than Seagal’s bloated remains. Why can’t he have an ice cream shoved in his nose? Or give his brother a robot for his birthday? Hell, even Jean-Claude Van Damme had some sweet dance moves.
The bottom line.
Have we as an audience have been too spoiled by new peaks in action cinema over the last 15 years to appreciate the craft in Extraction 2? No, because your jaw-breaking, gun-toting, physics-defying action movie still needs to have some heart and soul to it. Mad Max: Fury Road may be one long flaming car chase, but that’s the topping to the empowering message of resisting authority at its center. Tom Cruise may try to throw himself into the blades of an actual helicopter in the Mission: Impossible series (multiple times, come to think of it), but he shows love for his fellow IMF agents and makes you feel the threat of world-ending terrorism every time. For all its impressive stunt work and sequencing, Extraction 2 is just trying to meet the quota for a standard action movie. It doesn’t hurt to want a little more than another fight.
Extraction 2 is now streaming on Netflix. You can watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Netflix. Read more articles by Jon Winkler here.
EXTRACTION 2 - 5/10