Extraction 2 director Sam Hargrave is part of a current wave of stuntmen turned directors, and so he’s routinely mentioned in the same sentence as John Wick co-creators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Hargrave actually cut his directorial teeth by creating stunt-viz and fight-viz for the likes of Stahelski and Leitch, as well as the Russo brothers, Gavin O’Connor and Francis Lawrence. And so when Hargrave got called up to the majors to direct 2020’s Extraction, starring Chris Hemsworth, he executed the action filmmaking at such a high level that Netflix knew they had a franchise in the making, prerelease.
It didn’t have to be this way. I don’t know what more Hemsworth has to do to demonstrate his considerable charm and comic timing — as evidenced in his outings as Thor, his scene-stealing cameos in the comedies Ghostbusters (2016) and Vacation (2015), and his layered, entertaining turn as the smarmy villain of last year’s Spiderhead (another Netflix production) — but the Extraction movies seem determined to use him in the most uninspiring way possible. As Tyler Rake, the series’ haunted Aussie black-ops mercenary, the actor is stoic, silent, and humorless. There is a reason for this: Tiny flashbacks throughout tell us that at the heart of everything Rake does is an attempt to make up for abandoning his young son on his deathbed. The film gives us just enough of this motivation to make that clear — and yet not enough for it to resonate in any meaningful way. All Hemsworth is asked to do is stare off into space. As a result, there’s an emotional void where the movie’s heart should be.
But he can fight, and he can move, and Extraction 2 uses its star’s physical abilities well — particularly in an extended, 20-minute-plus single-shot prison escape, beatdown, and chase that marks the movie’s high point. Of course, it’s not really a single shot. There are clearly digital stitches hidden amid all those whip-pans and dark shadows passing through the frame. And in some ways, this extended sequence represents the film’s shortcomings as well, as its creativity gradually curdles into tedium.
Let’s talk about this for a bit. The setup of the sequence is simple. (Everything in this movie is simple.) Rake has agreed to help extract a woman, Ketevan (Tinatin Dalakishvili), and her two kids from a Georgian prison where they are being housed alongside her mobster husband, who wants his family by his side while he serves out his sentence. At first, the delirious camerawork following Rake and his wards through the bowels of the crowded, labyrinthine prison enhances their confusion, and the frantic pace accelerates as the various inmate gangs rise up and attack our heroes. Then we move on to a big, crowded prison-yard mêlée involving axes, guns, knives, shovels, grenades, and one movie star with a flaming arm. This section is genuinely uproarious. (It’s a shame that most people watching Extraction 2 will have to experience this inside of their existential-content cocoons and not in a rowdy movie theater.) Alas, the one-shot sequence keeps going after that into a car chase, a train chase, and a helicopter chase, and after a while, what’s happening onscreen ceases to matter, because it seems like the only thing the filmmakers care about is keeping this tired visual gimmick going. By the time the umpteenth black car is getting bazooka’d into oblivion, we can smell the desperation behind the camera.
These show-offy single-take sequences certainly have their place. My favorite film from last year (and maybe my favorite film of this young decade), Romain Gavras’s Athena, was built partly around a series of so-called oners. But in Athena (also produced by Netflix), these sequences spoke to the exaltation and release of the story’s central rebellion. They expanded the film’s metaphor, allowing one banlieue uprising to become a vision of a broader, warlike conflict. Athena’s formal daring matched its thematic ambitions, in other words. If such connections exist in Extraction 2, I missed them. Mainly, it’s all just neat — impressively mounted and increasingly meaningless.
Still, that’s not nothing. Hargrave’s directorial bravado and perverse imagination occasionally help transcend the generic story and characters. (The screenplay was written by Joe Russo, based on a 2014 graphic novel he created with his brother Anthony Russo and Ande Parks.) A guy gets pitchforked in the neck. Another gets his face plastered into a furnace before his hand is ripped in half. Then some other guy gets his head smushed with a dumbbell. At least one helicopter blows up real good. There’s a fight on a glass rooftop that’s fun for about half a minute. You get your kicks where you can.
Certain action movies rely mainly on getting the viewer excited about the inventive stunt work and pyrotechnics onscreen with little care given to establishing any real emotional engagement. Extraction 2 can’t quite pretend to be one of those, because it does try to move us — and mostly fails. But it’s clear that Hargrave’s interests (and skills) lie in the realm of staging gonzo action set pieces full of creatively garish violence. I can’t wait to see what happens to him next. Tyler Rake, not so much.
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