Guided by the talented Russo Brothers, known for their work in the Marvel universe, the “Extraction” movies are a rare gem: high-budget, intensely action-packed thrillers. Picture a hero like John Rambo, Jason Bourne, or John Wick; he’s the skilled warrior who’s tired of fighting but can’t escape it. He carries the weight of a sorrowful history and mourns it deeply. And the actor portraying him? He’s so convincing in action sequences that you’d swear he could endure endless punishment—be it fists, bullets, or explosions—and still press on.
Film critic Robert Brian Taylor has dubbed these types of films “The Sad Action Hero canon,” and Chris Hemsworth has recently risen as its shining star. As Tyler Rake—a name straight out of a kid’s action figure collection—Hemsworth brings authenticity to the role. His physical prowess in acting is on par with legends like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, yet he offers a broader emotional spectrum. From playing a dimwitted heartthrob to a master hacker, from a down-and-out mercenary to a historical seafarer, a charismatic cult leader, and even the iconic Thor, Hemsworth delivers each role with conviction. He channels a bit of young Sean Connery’s charm, too, but beneath that lies a profound melancholy, which “Extraction” seeks to unearth.
Tyler’s backstory includes his time as a special forces operative in the Australian Army. He opted for another deployment to Afghanistan while his son was losing a battle to a terminal illness, missing his final moments. Following this tragedy, his marriage crumbled, and he turned to mercenary work. The guilt he feels over his failures as a husband and father fuels the narrative in “Extraction” just as much as amnesia drives the “Bourne” saga, and grief powers the “John Wick” films. Tyler’s journey is one of seeking atonement, set against a backdrop where every action scene serves as a purgatory, populated with flawed reflections of the protagonist: damaged fathers who misuse, ignore, or corrupt their offspring, viewing them as mere extensions of themselves. Tyler’s greatest adversaries are twisted paternal figures, symbolic of his own self-punishing thoughts about his shortcomings as a family man.
In the inaugural “Extraction” film, we saw Tyler on a mission to save the abducted son of an Indian drug lord, held captive in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The child was merely a bargaining chip in a power struggle between wealthy tyrants and their own private militias. By taking on this task, Tyler essentially became a vessel for karma, enduring punishment for his past wrongdoings in a city that resembled purgatory (the original graphic novel set the story in Paraguay). Simultaneously, he played a pseudo-father role to the boy he was safeguarding. In the sequel, a mysterious man (played by the charismatic Idris Elba, who we hope will return for the third installment) visits Tyler’s secluded cabin, where he’s recuperating from his previous mission. He brings news from Tyler’s ex-wife, who is Georgian. Her sister and her children are imprisoned in Georgia by her drug-dealing husband, Davit (Tornike Bziava), who manages to keep them all under his control. Tyler is tasked with freeing the family from prison and protecting them from Davit and his even more dangerous brother, Zurab (Tornike Gogrichiani). Naturally, things get complicated. All you need to know is that the movie consists of three extended action scenes interspersed with some character development.
The first scene is a non-stop 21-minute action sequence that follows Tyler and the family during a daring prison escape and onto a train pursued across icy landscapes by helicopters filled with armored henchmen. Any goons not taken out in mid-air land on the train to battle Tyler and his allies, Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) and Yaz (Adam Bessa), using firearms, hand-to-hand combat, knives, and any available objects. Director Sam Hargrave, previously a stunt coordinator who made his directorial debut with the first “Extraction,” takes the concept of a digitally seamless, extended single shot—popularized in mid-2000s films like Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men”—and elevates it to extravagant yet undeniably impressive heights.
Much like the extended shot in the first “Extraction,” this one gives off a video game vibe. Cinematographer Greg Baldi’s lens often takes on a first-person or over-the-shoulder perspective, reminiscent of a first-person shooter game. The viewpoint shifts in and out of moving train cars, adjusts its focus to capture close-ups of distressed faces or wide shots filled with bustling vehicles and people, and performs feats that defy physics and production insurance guidelines. Despite the Eastern European-inspired blue-gray filters, the bloodshed, and the bone-crushing action, you’re aware that the sequence is as fictional as the Avengers taking on Thanos. Some digitally composited landscapes and helicopters don’t quite hit the mark of realism, and a few ambitious camera movements transitioning from exterior to interior scenes can feel overly clever. However, its complexity and precise timing still command appreciation, much like a challenging piano concerto that only a select few can master.
The film’s other two main segments draw inspiration from the original “Die Hard” and one of John Woo’s iconic face-off films (likely “The Killer,” which, like this movie, culminates in a candlelit church with doves fluttering around). These sections are creatively designed and executed with effortless skill. However, the rapid editing and shaky camera work (Hargrave seems to be adopting the Russo Brothers’ “shaky equals thrilling” approach) can sometimes be distracting. However, they face the unique challenge of being impressive enough to carry any other action blockbuster but feeling somewhat underwhelming following the prison break and train chase sequence.
There’s also a subplot involving Sandro (Andro Japaridze), one of the ex-sister-in-law’s children, who has been groomed since birth to follow in his father and uncle’s criminal footsteps. He’s caught between acknowledging his family’s longstanding legacy of violence and indoctrination and choosing a different path or seeking revenge against Tyler for killing one of his relatives during the prison escape. Anyone familiar with the Sad Action Hero genre knows how this storyline will unfold—Chris Hemsworth isn’t going anywhere—so it’s just a matter of waiting it out.
Hemsworth and his fellow actors are reflective and skilled performers. They approach this project earnestly, delving into the psychological distress and remorse woven into Joe Russo’s script. They infuse a graphic novel-like seriousness (think pulp fiction treated with gravity) into their roles, helping “Extraction 2” rise above being just a glorified video game. However, there’s a lack of dramatic depth in both the writing and the limited screen time to fully develop Tyler and his close circle. The film is primarily concerned with delivering an endless barrage of action. It aspires to be both a John le Carré novel and a cinematic version of a first-person shooter game. The original “Extraction” almost achieved this balance in scenes where Tyler connected with an old mercenary friend played by David Harbour, who was even more tired than Tyler and proved unreliable. The sequel comes close again in a scene where Tyler confronts his deepest regrets through dialogue rather than combat metaphors. But largely, the series plays it safe to cater to its perceived core audience: viewers who regard character development and atmosphere as mere “filler.”
Nevertheless, you might appreciate the series’ efforts to ground its military-themed action adventures in a semblance of reality and provide its main characters with scenarios that surpass typical action movie clichés. While most modern Hollywood films target the inner child in every adult, the “Extraction” movies appeal to the budding adult in every child. Despite its “R” rating, the ideal viewer might be around 12 years old. The interactions between parents and their disillusioned children capture that youthful moment when you suddenly realize that the adults you once idolized are fallible humans who can let you down and often pretend to have all the answers.
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