Early in the Netflix action flick Extraction 2, handler Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani) looks upon the battered body of mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) and observes, “You fought your way back.” That might sound like a bit of empty exposition, but those who saw the first Extraction know how remarkable Rake’s achievement actually is. Adapted from the Ande Parks comic Cuidad, 2020’s Extraction ended with Rake plummeting into the Ganges after being stabbed and shot. A lot.
But as clear as Nik’s first comment may be, her follow-up is much more baffling. “You just have to find out why,” she continues, the camera holding on her face to make sure everyone understands just how concerned she is.
In its weakest moments, Extraction 2 spends too much time dwelling on the hero’s existential crisis. The first 20 minutes of the movie follow mercenary Rake as he recovers from his aforementioned injuries and ponders the meaning of life, finding no worthwhile answer. While director Sam Hargrave wisely moves away from the grim nihilism of the first movie (no one throws screaming kids off of buildings in this entry), the movie still tamps down Hemsworth’s natural charisma to make Rake into a generic haunted tough guy. The potential comedy of Rake’s burgeoning interest in Eurovision and chicken husbandry receives only seconds of screen time, but the camera apparently cannot get enough of Hemsworth solemnly squinting off to the middle distance.
The plodding introspection breaks momentarily when Idris Elba shows up in a sadly brief cameo to give our hero his next mission, but it returns in droves when Rake realizes it involves Ketevan (Tinatin Dalakishvili), his ex-wife Mia (Olga Kurylenko), and her children Sandro (Andro Japaridze) and Nina (Mariami Kovziashvili and Marta Kovziashvili). Tasked to free Ketevan from the Georgian prison where her husband, terrorist leader Davit Radiani (Tornike Bziava), and his equally menacing brother Zurab (Tornike Gogrichiani) have held them, Rake takes plenty of time to meditate about his mistakes and losses.
In its best moments, Extraction 2 has no doubt about Rake’s raison d’etre. Tyler Rake lives to kill and he kills in the most spectacular ways. Hargrave once again refuses to flinch at the grisly side of combat, resulting in kills that would make even the hardest action fan wince. Rake slices hands Friday the 13th Part IV-style, sets baddies ablaze, and caves in faces, using whatever he can find—-guns, lots of guns (to quote the quote from Rake’s most obvious forerunner, John Wick), but also knives, shields, and weight-training equipment.
Gnarly as the sequences may be, Hargrave maintains a deft hand in controlling the chaos, especially in the movie’s standout 20-minute oner. Hargrave and cinematographer Greg Baldi employ plenty of camera tricks to foreground implements of death before they do their ghastly duty. The camera trains on a shovel seconds before Rake swings it at an enemy. We get a second of Rake flinching at the heat coming off of a furnace before he grabs a baddie’s face and sears it on the metal. Hargrave strikes the perfect balance of making us cringe in anticipation of the mayhem and earning shocking laughter when Rake dispatches someone in an unconventional manner.
So brilliantly executed are the kills that one wonders why Hargrave bothers with anything else. Clocking in at nearly two hours, Extraction 2 has plenty of fat to trim, thanks to the bland script from writer Joe Russo (who produced with his brother Anthony). The movie almost seems embarrassed to be a mindless mayhem picture, but it also lacks the introspection to properly deal with any of the heavier themes it too often brings up. Yes, there’s something to be said about the loss of life in conflict, but it does no good to follow a slaughter sequence with 10 minutes of mourning a named character. Sure, it’s worth interrogating the concept of heroism, but you can’t just ignore the fact that Rake murders scores of non-English speakers to rescue helpless women and children.
Outside of the fight sequences, Extraction 2 finds its surest ground when dealing with cycles of violence. We’re told that Zurab and Davit inspire familial loyalty among their followers. And while we don’t see how, exactly, the brothers cultivate that sentiment, it does make for interesting tension when young Sandro abandons his mother to join the terrorists, forcing Rake to face his own shortcomings as a father. Tough hero as surrogate parent has been well-trod territory since Ellen Ripley thoroughly blazed that ground decades ago in Aliens, but the themes do hold together fine here.
As functional as these quieter moments may be, they lack anything close to the invention of the movie’s portrayal of violence. Hargrave has a gift for making even the grimiest action fully readable, and he uses Hemsworth’s massive frame in a manner rarely seen since Ghostbusters. Extraction 2 exists solely to make Hemsworth into a satisfying murder machine. It’s just too bad the movie so often forgets its purpose.