Say what you will about 2023, but at the very least, it has been generously scratching a cinematic itch: a craving for the type of kinetic, nimble action cinema (one blessedly not superhero-driven) that used to be in the audiences’ regular moviegoing diet back in the 1990s.
Indeed, amid the miraculous “John Wick 4,” the surprisingly deep “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” the deliriously fun and high-concept “Plane” and even the unapologetically feminist indie “Polite Society,” the year’s first half has treated us to a delectable buffet of polished chase sequences, high-wire escapes and punchy fist fights. So why not make room for one more before Tom Cruise arrives on the scene with “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” and flies off a cliff on a motorcycle?
This is where Sam Hargrave’s high-stakes Netflix thriller “Extraction 2” comes in, with the director (also a stuntman and choreographer, though not on this film) returning after 2020’s first “Extraction,” a film (reportedly) received so well by the audiences that the filmmakers changed its ending and made a survivor out of its mercenary (anti)hero, Tyler Rake.
Written by Joe Russo from a story by him, Anthony Russo and Ande Parks (also the creator of the source graphic novel, “Ciudad”), “Extraction 2” feels meatier in its action-packed set pieces than its predecessor, with Chris Hemsworth’s approachable and brawny Rake giving puppy avenger John Wick a genuine run for his money when it comes to high-kicks and knockouts. (Speaking of puppies, let’s not forget to mention that Rake’s sweet dog and pet chickens make it through this new mayhem in one piece.)
All that said, “Extraction 2” largely skipping theaters for a quick sprint to streaming feels like a massively missed opportunity for Netflix. Sure, having arrived at the height of the lockdown, the environment into which “Extraction” launched was vastly different than today, making direct-to-streaming the only option. But with movie theaters no longer out of bounds, one wonders why the studio has insisted upon denying the audiences (at least those outside of big cities) the proven ecstasy of experiencing cartoonishly smashed skulls, sliced throats and cracking bones amongst an overeager crowd.
And they are a dime a dozen in “Extraction 2,” which simultaneously feels more brutal than its predecessor, but also more sophisticated and even measured in its handling of violence. (For starters, no child is heartlessly thrown off a roof here.) Moreover, the writers don’t take any shortcuts when it comes to believably easing the audience into the film’s first act.
With Rake having nearly died at the end of “Extraction,” the sequel seems to take a piece of Annie Wilkes’ advice from “Misery” to heart in bringing him back to life: If a hero “did not get out of the “cockadoodie car” in the first installment, you need to show the audience how he made it out alive and well to shoulder a new chapter.
After this necessary housekeeping, we follow Rake as he gets escorted to a wintry Austrian mountain lodge for his healing and retirement. Rake’s picturesque seclusion to find peace and purpose doesn’t last long: before we can sufficiently fetishize flannel shirts, bulky knits and crackling fires, he is brought back to the field for one last job by Idris Elba’s Alcott, an operator so well-groomed and effortless that it made this critic feel sorry that Elba has never received his own James Bond franchise.
And the job itself is like no other: Rake’s ex-wife Mia (Olga Kurylenko) has requested him for the duty of extracting her sister Ketevan and her two children, Sandro and Nina, from a prison they’re placed in by Ketevan’s ruthless mobster husband Davit. Still living with the guilt of abandoning Mia and their dying son years ago, what’s Rake to do but not accept the job and go through a “Rocky IV”-esque training montage in the snowy mountains?
Admittedly, the baddies are excessively stereotypical and one-note throughout and the Rake backstory, consisting of remorse, grief and the lingering weight of a doomed marriage is somewhat trite, the kind we’ve seen a million times before. But Hemsworth and Kurylenko manage to sell it against the odds, making their journey something more than a mindlessly blood-splattered conquest that’s even touching in the final act.
Still, the filmmakers know that one drops into fare like “Extraction 2” not for feelings and tears but for the fast-on-its-feet action, one they deliver in heaps. A stunning one-take sequence that follows the aforesaid prison mission over twenty-something pulsating minutes is the movie’s crown jewel (which is at times too frantic and motion-sickness-inducing due to Greg Baldi’s non-stop on-the-move camera), but this critic responded more to some of the smaller set pieces, especially one that has its fighters dangling from a skyscraper, “Ghost Protocol”-style.
Also noteworthy in this regard is Golshifteh Farahani’s Nik Khan, reviving her character from the first film alongside Adam Bessa’s nonchalant Yaz as Nik’s brother and displaying some killers moves she barely got a chance to in the first film. It’s almost as if the team of writers have realized Nik has all along been the story’s unsung asset and decided to expand on her intriguing character with a part worthy of Farahani’s dedication and resolute presence. For that reason alone, “Extraction 2” deserves your attention on the biggest screen at your disposal.