2020’s Extraction opens with a bloodied and battered Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) in a gunfight on a bridge, and it’s not looking good for him. The film immediately jumps back to show how he wound up in the situation, and it ends with him falling into the river below, presumably to his death. 2023’s Extraction 2 opens on the same exact scene, but after his fall we watch as he’s rescued and rehabilitated by sibling mercenaries Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) and Yaz Khan (Adam Bessa). It’s a grueling recovery, but it’s not long before the team takes on a new rescue mission — a powerful Georgian gangster is holding his own family prisoner inside the very prison where he himself is incarcerated, and they’re not going to last long.
While the first film is a solid but unevenly paced action hit, the follow up is a slicker, highly exhilarating ride that sees returning director Sam Hargrave and his team ramp up everything that worked so well the first time around. That it even finds time for a handful of effective emotional beats between characters makes it all the more impressive, and while it’s a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen with a theatrical release it’s still a gift from a streamer that’s had more than a few big budget action duds [cough Red Notice cough].
Getting Ketevan Radiani (Tinatin Dalakishvili) and her two children out of the prison, a corrupt, vile, and endlessly violent place, is really just the start of their journey, but Hargrave makes it a sequence for the ages. It’s not the only highlight in the film, but when people discuss Extraction 2 the conversation will undoubtedly lead with this wildly ambitious and thrilling twenty-one minute “single take.” The digital seams holding it together are often visible enough if you care about that kind of thing (yawn), but they’ll hardly distract you from the wonder of the set-piece as Tyler, Nik, and the family move from prison brawl to car chase to some train antics and beyond with the camera following their every move. As with the shorter oners that Hargrave crafted for the first film, it’s an action showcase highlighting the intensity of the characters’ situation as well as the intricate nature of the stunt and fight choreography.
Cinematographer Greg Baldi‘s camera finds an energy all its own and puts viewers right in the middle of the action. We weave in and out of brawls, both one-on-ones and the chaos of a prison yard riot, and it is thrilling. Tyler’s skillsets are far removed from the highly trained martial arts-style fights you find with Donnie Yen or Scott Adkins — this guy is a scrapper who relies on brutal efficiency to end fights as soon as possible whether by gun, knife, or bare hands, and fight choreographers Travis Gomez, Nuo Sun, and Kaiser Tin-u have put together a parade of beatdowns, maimings, and more. The camera follows Tyler and friends into SUVs for a blistering car chase with occasionally dodgy CG assists before piling them onto an armored transport train besieged by attack helicopters. It’s a lot, and the single take makes it a propulsive journey.
That entire sequence is the film’s flashiest — seriously, it’s an adrenaline rush that keeps escalating well beyond the point you think it’ll stop — but there’s plenty more worth celebrating for action fans. Tyler’s recovery kicks off with a Rocky-inspired montage in the woods, and after a brief respite from the tense thrills of the oner, we’re treated to an epic assault on an Austrian highrise. Hargrave knows how to keep the momentum and excitement up, and he continually finds fresh ways to move us forward. Terrorist baddies strike from above and below delivering explosively orchestrated chaos, the Khans get to share some terrific tactical combat, and Hemsworth enjoys an exercise room fight that would make Jackie Chan proud.
One of the smart improvements in Extraction 2 is giving Farahani more than the brief taste of the action she gets in the first film. Here she’s an integral player in the various shootouts and fights and a fierce ball of fury who refuses to quit. She shines during a train engine assault, and she’s every bit as memorable in brief scenes showing the unspoken emotional connection that Nik shares with Tyler. Idris Elba and Olga Kurylenko show up in far briefer roles, and while neither gets to scrap they’re both always welcome additions to any movie.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, though, as Joe Russo’s script makes the mistake of thinking we give a flying fart about the villain’s motivations and rough childhood. Unnecessary flashbacks keep rearing their head to show us the abuses he and his brother suffered as kids at the hands of bullies and their own father, and it’s both cliche and dull filler. Ketevan’s teenaged son Sandro (Andro Japaridze) is also written to be exceedingly annoying, and his purpose here as a parallel to Tyler’s own son — a child who died of cancer while Tyler was intentionally away — is played far heavier than need be. Both the guilt and quest for self-forgiveness are evident in Hemsworth’s face, but Russo insists on making sure we see it reflected in the abandonment that Sandro feels.
Hemsworth deserves a shout out, not just as the most exciting of the comic book movie Chrises, but as the one who’s most convincing as an action star. The others (Evans, Pine, that other guy) all do action and are fine at it, but Hemsworth makes you believe it. His physique is part of it, obviously, but Hemsworth also puts in the work as an actor making you feel the exhaustion, intensity, and catharsis of it all. Almost as important, he also nails the small glances and looks that speak volumes about Tyler’s griefs, determinations, and affections for certain people in his life.
Extraction made our list of 2020’s Best Action Movies, and Extraction 2 is destined to repeat that feat this year — at a much higher position. (The year’s only half over, but I won’t be surprised if it ultimately lands at #2 right behind John Wick 4.) There are the expected bumpy beats with Russo’s script, and the occasional Marvel-fication of using digital backdrops is as ugly as ever, but the bulk of the film’s two-hour running time prioritizes action and thrills over everything else. It continues to be clear that stunt professionals like Hargrave, Chad Stahelski, David Leitch, and others make for some of the best action directors, and here’s hoping more of them will start flexing these new muscles in the years to come.