Armed to the Teeth
I hate to bring things down, but the pandemic is still with us, and its economic and social effects are becoming more visible – which is a slightly pretentious way of saying that some cinemas are shutting down. Attendance figures haven't recovered to pre-viral levels, and coupled to this is the fact that a lot of films are turning up on streaming much sooner than used to be the case. Hey, I want to stay in touch with where people are at, which apparently is to just stay at home and watch made-for-streaming movies, plus I'm finding it hard to summon up the energy to watch yet another CGI Disney remake or Transformers sequel. So what is the big N pushing our way at the moment?
The answer to that is: Extraction 2, directed by Sam Hargrave. (Particularly on-the-ball readers may already have figured out that this is a sequel to Extraction, from the same director.) It opens with Chris Hemsworth, looking like he's at the end of a heavy night, being shot and falling off a bridge somewhere in the developing world. This put an end to my hopes of this being a drama about a dentist having a hard day.
Anyway, Hemsworth is fished out of the river and given first aid and basically comes back from the dead to participate in the rest of the movie – this looks to me to be one of those 'Apes exist, sequel required' situations. Soon enough he is sitting around in a swanky hospital in Dubai being grumpy. (This is nothing to do with being shot; he's just one of those naturally grumpy people.) It turns out that Hemsworth is playing tough (and grumpy) Australian soldier-of-fortune Tyler Rake, a name which simultaneously sounds very aggressive and virile, while also putting me in mind of gardening implements. (What other names did Joe Russo, who wrote this thing, have on his notepad while coming up with the character? Jack Spade? Rex Trowel? Victor Fork? Conrad Dibber?)
Having nearly died, Hemsworth retires grumpily to a cabin in the woods, only to be approached by a mysterious figure offering him One Last Job. This is all very genre-congruent and playing the transactional role of the mysterious figure is Idris Elba, no stranger to lowbrow action movies himself. It turns out Elba is here on behalf of Hemsworth's ex-wife (Olga Kurylenko), whose sister and children are currently trapped in a horrible Georgian prison because her husband, who is an actual inmate there, wants them close at hand. (It turns out that the husband and his equally awful brother are practically running the country, so why he's in prison at all is a bit mysterious.) The mission is to get the wife and kids out of the prison and off to a safe country beyond the influence of her husband and his brother. Naturally, Hemsworth grumpily accepts and sets off with his regular team members (Golshifteh Farahani and Adam Bessa) to break into the prison. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, quite a bit, as it turns out. If relentlessly violent and downbeat action thrillers are your thing, then Extraction 2 will fit the bill quite nicely, I suspect – it's one of those Netflix movies designed to be watched on a TV or laptop, possibly while you're doing something else at the same time, so it's visually competent if not particularly interesting and meets the genre requirements. Somehow it doesn't quite feel like a proper movie, though. I'm not going to say this is solely down to the presence of Chris Hemsworth, who is practically the type specimen for the modern phenomenon of the movie non-star – films featuring Hemsworth have made something like $11 billion over the years, but the vast majority of these are films where he plays Thor – I suspect many people would struggle to name a Hemsworth-led non-Marvel film. Hemsworth isn't a disagreeable presence, by any means, but streaming feels like a natural place for him considering he doesn't have the pull to open a movie under his own name.
Most of Extraction 2 feels more like a computer game than a movie anyway – once all the prefatory exposition is out of the way, it's essentially more like a series of levels than anything with a more conventional narrative structure. There's the Prison level, the Train level, the Tower Block level, and so on. All the characters are stock types and drawn as perfunctorily as that would suggest. The film's focus is all on its action sequences.
These are, as noted, very violent indeed – the fact that this film isn't going to hold back comes early on where a minor character gets a garden fork through the neck in graphic detail (again with the agricultural implements). There's a weird mix of the grittily realistic and the absurdly over-the-top – at one point Hemsworth, caught up in a prison riot, is hit by a Molotov cocktail and just carries on grumpily beating up the people around him, regardless of the fact he's actually on fire. (This might be a good place to reflect on the proposition that all narratives are either Escapist or Reminder, in terms of their relationship with the real world; one of the issues with Extraction 2 is that it doesn't seem to be entirely sure which one it is.)
Most of it is sub-John Wick, sub-Mission Impossible and sub-Bond, but I have to say that the train sequence is quite attention-grabbing – Hemsworth and company pile onto a freight train, trying to escape from the bad guys, only to come under attack from heavily armed helicopter gunships, one of which Hemsworth grumpily shoots down. Enemy soldiers are dropped onto the train which they have to contend with at great length; eventually the train crashes. All very genre-appropriate, of course – but this sequence, which goes on for about twenty minutes, is apparently executed in a single, unbroken take. Whatever you think of this sort of stunt – and personally I think it can be a bit showy-offy – the technical virtuosity involved is arresting; it's undeniably impressive. And as an artefact of genre film-making, Extraction 2 is highly accomplished – but it seems much more concerned about impressing the audience than actually entertaining them.
I was having a sort-of discussion about action movies with a sort-of friend the other day and the topic came up of the use of the descriptor action movie as a term of disparagement – as in 'it's only an action movie'. I'm dead against this sort of thing, as really great action films – The Magnificent Seven, The Terminator, The Raid – can be as transcendentally entertaining and satisfying as any other classic movie; they're just as difficult to make, anyway. But Extraction 2 isn't a great action movie, in part because it seems to be solely focusing on meeting its action quotient. What do they know of cricket who only cricket know? The same is true of action sequences. Light and shade and depth of characterisation have not been concerns here, and the resulting film, while technically adept, is as limited as you might expect.