“Into every generation a slayer is born …”
– Buffy the Vampire Slayer intro
Steve McQueen. Carl Weathers. Michelle Yeoh. Sigourney Weaver. Danny Trejo. Jet Li. Gerard Butler. Milla Jovovich. Bruce Willis. Keanu Reeves. These are but a few of the actors who have graced the silver screen in roles that battled aliens, scores of assassins, or even a multiverse of themselves and showed true grit in the battle to survive. As one generation finds other ways to participate in the action, a new generation comes up, taking what was built and pushing it to new places. Chris Hemsworth is the latest of his generation to join the action collective, making a name for himself not just as Thor Odinson in the MCU, but as a comedian (Ghostbusters: Answer the Call), a soldier (12 Strong), and someone with a good heart (The Cabin in the Woods). Shocking no one, after the success of his 2020 release, Extraction, a sequel was greenlit and put into production. Returning with director Sam Hargrave and writer Joe Russo, Extraction 2 breaks free from the comic book source material, Cuidad, entirely, empowering the cast and crew to deliver all the action of the first film and jump it up a few notches. With the inclusion of a more emotionally-charged narrative and a relentless 20-minute oner, Extraction 2 is ready to take audiences on another action-packed thrill ride where the stakes are not only higher, but far more personal.
Some things are absolutely inevitable. The last time audiences saw mercenary Tyler Rake (Hemsworth), he was bleeding out from multiple wounds (including one to the neck) and had tumbled off a bridge into a river, presumed dead. His job to recover kidnapped boy Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) accomplished at the cost of his life, a price the deeply troubled merc is willing to pay as recompence for his own failings as a parent. However, Rake’s story doesn’t end at the bottom of a river in Bangladesh as he’s rescued and rehabilitated, just in time for a new mission to land on his doorstep. One which he cannot turn away from. One he must complete. One which forces him to face his past and the consequences left his in wake.
When adapting Cuidad, a few changes were made to Ovi’s gender, age, and the relationship between Ovi and Tyler. One of the biggest additions was the emotional tether that connected Ovi and Tyler, not as recoveree and merc, but as a means for Tyler to do right by the child he feels he abandoned. In Extraction, Tyler is great at what he does, but is psychologically screwed up due to unresolved issues stemming from leaving his own son to battle leukemia while he was shipped off to Iraq. Even when the shit absolutely hits the fan, Tyler never leaves Ovi, speaking to the depths the merc is willing to go to feel as though he could redeem himself by even a small margin. Extraction 2 goes even further by directly exploring that sucking wound on Tyler’s soul. This means that the script by Russo is not bound to anything in the comic he, his brother Anthony (Avengers: Endgame), and Ande Parks created and everything is on the table, for better or worse. This ends up translating into a narrative that offers far more breathing room in the action as maintaining the same unyielding pace is unnecessary, allowing for more character work and more interpersonal drama. In a modern example, if John Wick (2014) is Extraction, John Wick: Chapter Two (2017) is Extraction 2: the world is bigger, there are more relationships to explore, and there are more opportunities for deeper dives into them all.
With a runtime similar to Extraction, it may surprise folks that much of the opening is allotted to clearing up how Tyler survives the bridge, setting up his rehab, and getting into his head for what’s next. This choice does reduce the total amount of action in the film overall, but does so by boosting the emotional quotient, enabling us to get a better sense of where Tyler is prior to taking on the new contract and conveying just why this new mission is enough to get him back into action. If there’s a problem with this segment, given the injuries he’s suffered, the rehab he’s needed, and aids required to go about living day-to-day, the speed with which he becomes fight-ready is unbelievable, even for an action film. (Odd where the line is drawn in a film like this, right? A 20-minute onslaught is fine, but rushed rehab? GTFOH.) That aside, the theme coursing through the film is “family ties” as Tyler is forced to face his past; the returning Golshifteh Farahani as Nik Khan, Tyler’s friend and handler, is joined by her brother Yaz (played with overflowing energy by Adam Bessa); and the family being extracted comes to terms with being the kind of people who harm others or protect. With layer upon layer, one might think the script would crumple, yet the action always keeps the stakes high and the performances manage to make the emotion higher so that even when the bullets stop firing, danger continues to linger.
As for the action itself, the thing that the trailers focus on, the aspect that fans of the action genre are interested in above all else (emotions be damned!), Hargrave demonstrates that the first film was no fluke. To be clear, the 20-min one-take) is incredible to behold and the structure of it absolutely feeds the intensity as Tyler, Nik, and Yaz take the lead on extracting the target from a Georgian prison. It may be a false oner (meaning fabricated via editing to appear as one-shot), but that doesn’t detract from the sensation one gets of excitement and terror as Tyler fights off multiple assailants at once sometimes successfully, sometimes being overtaken and having to recalibrate the response. Over the 20 minutes, there are several apexes and several valleys, indicating an awareness of just how much the audience can/should handle before switching gears. This allows the stunt team to make the most of each location the extraction team must navigate in order to get to safety. Speaking of stunts, the training that Hemsworth and Farahani did to prepare for this pays off as their characters are undeniable beasts, delivering the kind of fatal shots and slashes that’ll have you reaching your own body for the point of penetration to ensure you’re ok.
What really makes the stunts sing is the collaboration between cast and script that focuses on showing instead of telling. I don’t need to hear Tyler talk about what a badass he thinks he is (he doesn’t, for those wondering; it’s his personality) and the script doesn’t walk the audience through what the plan is. Instead, we observe, just as the targets do, as the extraction team reacts and pivots to each new circumstance. That train sequence we see in the full trailer? It’s got the kinds of secrets that make you realize, “oh, these folks are prepared for anything!,” and that’s well after fighting their way through the prison and getting off the main road. Action films are strongest when they show us who the characters are by the way they handle situations, their cognitive processing, their reaction (or lack thereof) to another character, the way they move, and more. By continually “showing,” Hargrave allows for less exposition and more action that still manages to mean something, so that when the final bullet rings out, we’re on the edge of our seat.
For a sequel, Extraction 2 delivers the goods expected by fans of the first and offers an easy jumping point in for those who don’t want or have the time to watch the first film. There are more new characters, like Yaz, and each of them are given just enough to feel three-dimensional, though not all are given *moments*. Another aspect worth pointing out is that Greg Balidi’s cinematography is far more improved from the first, absent the put-on burnt orange and going for a more natural look whether dealing with the cold of an isolated prison or a flourishing city. Balidi worked as the second unit DP for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) and The Gray Man (2022), among other projects like Ford v Ferrari (2019) and Venom (2018), so Balidi clearly knows what he’s doing, and the improvements show. Both of these elements help to make Extraction 2 feel uniquely separate from first, even if narratively linked. However, there remain moments of incredulity that are hard to ignore amid a script that’s a little too soaked in melodrama for such a hard-hitting actioner, far more than the first. This is, of course, necessary in order to, perhaps, finally free Tyler from his psychological torment, but the attempt to do so does drag on the rhythm of the whole.
Tyler Rake lives and, for now, that’s enough.
In select theaters June 9th, 2023.
Available on Netflix June 16th, 2023.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.