An anonymous, average action lark let loose during lockdown to large viewership on Netflix, 2020’s Extraction was bound to get a sequel. If there are but a few surprises about Extraction 2 (which debuts tomorrow on the streaming service), at least they are eminently pleasant ones.
The slow-footed source material quickly finds its fastball in a follow-up that’s confidently chaotic, perfectly paced, viscerally violent and astonishingly accomplished. (Among its many audiovisual specificities: When was the last time you heard tendons tear this way?) An unexpectedly famous face turns up for a cameo in which they chug a bottle of Stella Artois to wash out all the exposition they choke down. Perhaps best of all, Extraction 2 doesn’t treat its preamble as a prerequisite to enjoy this powder keg. Much like Australian ex-special forces commando Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) did off a tall cliff in the first film, the uninitiated can just jump right in.
Extraction’s closing moments illustrated that even one-man wrecking machine mercenaries like Rake have limitations – his bullet-riddled body tumbling off a bridge in Bangladesh after a successful mission to save a boy from his duplicitous, drug-dealing family. Extraction visually teased Rake’s survival and the sequel swiftly confirms it. A recon team rescues Rake from a river, resurrects him after a brief clinical death and airlifts him for a recovery in which Hemsworth sports the full coma-beard complement.
Months pass, and doctors advise Rake’s handler, Nik (a returning Golshifteh Farahani), that it would be “wise to consider a threshold.” Neither Nik nor the filmmakers heed this terrible advice, as Rake’s breath is brought back with a brusque “Fuck off,” he recuperates in what (after The Mother) could be known as the Netflix Northwoods, and he dots the line on a dangerous new mission.
Raised amid anarchy, Zurab and Davit are Georgian siblings and leaders of the Nagazi – a billion-dollar heroin and weapons organization whose followers exhibit “cult-like loyalty.” Such a description by writer Joe Russo offers a crucial detail for the fervor with which seemingly endless armies of goons spill forth; perhaps as a nod to Russo’s MCU past, one of them (Georgian wrestler Levan Saginashvili) looks like Tony Stark’s Hulkbuster in human form.
However, Davit is cooling in a Georgian prison for tossing a DEA agent off a roof. The Americans didn’t like that and secured an extension of his sentence. Prison is the best place for a dastardly man like Davit but it’s bad for his wife, Ketevan (Tinatin Dalakishvili), and their kids – sullen teen Sandro (Andro Japaridze) and button-cute Nina (Miriam and Marta Kovziashvili). They are imprisoned beside Davit (in more ways than one) by way of Zurab’s influence.
It seems only right that Rake busts out Ketevan, Sandro and Nina. Extractin’ makes Rake feel good. Forced into whatever remains of the life he was ready to end, it’s all that makes him feel good. “You were clinically dead nine months ago,” Nik reminds Rake. “Yeah,” Rake says. “But I’m not now.” However, the request comes with a frayed tether to Rake’s past he believed was severed long ago, and when the devilish Zurab (Tornike Gogrichiani) comes a-knocking, he always has numerous Nagazi behind him.
So it goes in this sequel’s centerpiece extraction. Once again, director Sam Hargrave depicts it as a digitally assisted one-shot sequence, but that’s where the similarities end. What was just a flashy flex before is an impressively immersive corker here, thanks to improvements in visual clarity and vivid characterization; Japaridze in particular nails Sandro’s responses to the sequence’s shock and awe, and in persuasive ways that will later come pounding back.
Running for 20 minutes and change, the oner is also raucous, relentless and enjoyably rowdy – from Rake extinguishing a fire on his arm solely through topspin to … well, a lot of helicopters to crash to the ground. In tandem with his stunt team and effects crew, Hargrave handily maintains brute-force innovation, precision timing and propulsive energy throughout – even tipping a cap to the train-crashing cacophony of John Frankenheimer and Andrei Konchalovsky. After the briefest of breathers, Extraction 2 ratchets up again for an Austrian skyscraper siege that keeps finding new, gnarly ways to top itself (while also giving Farahani and Adam Bessa, as Nik’s brother, impressive action beats to boot).
Perhaps it’s inevitable that Extraction 2 concludes with a comparative chamber piece to all this carnage – albeit with a brutality akin to backyard wrestling. It would be well-earned by the 45 minutes of awesome action alone that precedes it. But Extraction 2 is also effective at establishing the exhausting, enervating existence in a life led by such strictly binary choices as loyalty or betrayal, survival or submission and absolution or anguish.
Rake confronts these conundrums in a blisteringly well-played scene of radically honest soul-baring, during which it seems like a bit of Hemsworth’s own real-life reconsiderations are rumbling beneath the surface. It arrives in an exchange with a crucial character where chosen pronouns pummel just as hard as any punch Rake could throw. Indeed, the world is full of things Rake can’t fix, even if he makes it look quite natural to pound men’s throats in a pair of loose-fitting jeans.
The courtesy of character also extends to Zurab – his face a Frankensteined reflection of the fetid notions and ferocious tenacity with which his future was crudely stitched. A detail that Zurab was beaten to the point of fundamental deafness establishes his pain at an existential level, and Hargrave & Russo pause enough to let us in on a tinnitus of tyranny that peals in his head.
Peripherally, Extraction 2 also asks what it takes to raise a good person around violent men or whether that’s even possible. All too soberly and realistically, the answer is only yes if a woman is there to absorb these brutes’ sins and physical blows. Without apology, the film skillfully blends the thrill of how one violent man can facilitate escape from such an existence with the chill of how other violent men necessitate it in the first place. It’s a nihilistic snarl, but it’s preferable to the misguidedly maudlin hope of its predecessor.
Extraction 2 offers a forcefully applied consideration of how memories erase and endure. To that end, forget the first film’s fizzle and fire up this more invasive, persuasive installment of action filmmaking.