Directed by Sam Hargrave | Written by Joe Russo, based on the graphic novel Ciudad by the Joe and Anthony Russo, Ande Parks, and Fernando León González | 122 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Netflix
The first movie in this franchise arrived at a unique time. It was the spring of 2020. I was in lockdown and had been for a month, long enough to know the pandemic wasn’t going to be over anytime soon and long enough to really miss going to the cinema. Extraction was a welcome action distraction, a deftly directed amalgam of Bourne and Wick with plenty of extended sequences of punching and shooting and driving at high speed knitted together with CGI, channeling every First Person Shooter I’ve ever played — for better and sometimes worse.
The second film arrives at a different time. It’s definitely a little less welcome, but then that’s true of a lot of sequels to satisfying movies. Let’s be honest — wouldn’t we rather see entirely new material from the creative team of a film we enjoyed rather than a straight-ahead sequel? (Don’t answer that.)
Chris Hemsworth’s mercenary, Tyler Rake, a name someone in this movie cleverly remarks is “fun to say,” spends the first act of the sequel recovering from the injuries he sustained in the first one. He goes off to a wintry cabin to enjoy his retirement when Idris Elba shows up looking stylish. He’s got a job for Rake, and it comes from Rake’s ex (Olga Kurylenko).
Cue a getting-in-shape wood-chopping and pull-ups montage that was hokey way back in Rocky IV.
Full credit: for an action movie the picture gives a good amount of time to character development. In this case we get to know a deeply dysfunctional Georgian family, where the mother and two kids are kept in a prison for their own protection, but really it’s because the patriarch is a bad guy — he and his brother are waging a war against other gangsters like them. Turns out Rake’s ex is the sibling of the mother of the kids and she wants her sister, niece and nephew out of there.
You know Rake’s going to do it, but the nephew, a teenager named Sandro (Andro Japaridze), has been raised to embrace the anger of his father rather than understand the common sense of his mother.
This is a compelling scenario and a continuation of the themes of the last movie — more tales of toxic fathers and sons. It’s a shame, then, that not much comes from it. Sandro is a liability, but he’s never a genuine threat — someone to be rescued and educated on the proper path, with Rake as a mercenary stepping up as a father figure — while wrestling with the guilt of his own parental issues. It’s a step into melodrama the movie really doesn’t need, but fine.
Extraction II has three major action sequences, but they don’t all soar. The first takes us from the prison and onto a train — it features terrific work from the stunt and camera people, especially on the train, and some seriously dodgy CGI from the post-production crew. I really wished I could’ve watched the first Extraction on the big screen, but I suspect parts of this one on a screen any bigger than my 46″ plasma would look awful.
It doesn’t help that the colour scheme makes the whole segment look like a Call Of Duty clone. The deep debt this series owes to First Person Shooters was evident in the first movie, but I gave it a pass due to the joyously bloody choreography. I’d also argue that the simulated single-shot cinematography gets pretty numbing after awhile, and isn’t nearly as much fun as what Chad Stahelski and his cronies accomplish over on John Wick.
Still, this is largely what the first one was: A solid action distraction. It sure is a hell of a lot better than, say, Bullet Train, to name another recent big-budget action picture.
The one major improvement over the first film is something I specifically asked for: Give Golshifteh Farahani’s Nik more to do, and they absolutely do, along with her brother, Yaz (Adam Bessa). They end up being the best things in the picture, and make the second major action sequence in a Viennese skyscraper a real highlight.