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  • Robert Farago

Extraction 2 is Netflix's Most Popular Movie. What Does That Tell You?

This post contains spoilers, but don’t worry - you'll see them coming from a million miles away

Extraction debuted on Netflix during the COVID-19 lockdown (an irony lost on everyone). The movie starred Chris Helmsworth as Tyler Rake, an ex-special ops killing machine hired to extract an Indian drug lord’s impacted molar – I mean, kidnapped son. Rake rescues the kid, takes a bullet to the neck, falls off a bridge and dies. Only he doesn’t. No surprise there….

Action heroes are always getting shot, falling into rivers and surviving. In Kill Bill, Beatrix Kiddo is shot, falls into a river and survives. In The Quick and the Dead, Ellen Aim is shot, falls into a river and survives. In Nikita, Nikita is shot, falls into a river and survives. In Salt, Evelyn Salt is shot falls into a river and survives.

Bottom line? If you’re ever shot, make sure there’s a river nearby. You won’t bleed to death or drown, even if you’re wearing a hundred pounds of combat gear and sink to the bottom in slow motion.

Normally, the BIRR (Ballistic Insult River Rebirth) trope precedes an “I’m back from the dead-to-take-revenge” movie. Not here. The bad guys are dead. Send in the clones! But first…

Tyler Rake begins Extraction 2 in a coma - that lasts just long enough to prove that someone gives a shit. When Idris Alba gives the revived Rake a new job, the Aussie merc gets busy re-enacting Rocky IV’s wood-chopping, sled-pushing rehab regime.

Once our hero literally shrugs off a pesky bullet-wound, it’s time to Rake and roll!

Long story short, Rake flies off to Georgia to extract his sister-in-law and her two kids – one with major Daddy issues – from prison. Yes prison. And no, not that Georgia.

Rake jets off to the obscure Baltic nation, now famous as the fictional home of cinema’s longest and bloodiest single-take action movie scene – until the next Extraction or John Wick.

I’m not going to ridicule Extraction 2’s plot or Mr. Helmsworth’s humorless, side-eye-for-the-straight-guy acting. Shooting fish in a barrel ruins both the fish and the barrel.

Suffice it to say, E2 is such a by-the-numbers romp that AI could write E3 in its sleep. If it hasn’t already. So let’s look at Extraction 2’s “significance.”

Action movies can still compete with video games… for now

Extraction 2 replicates the pace, scope, scale, inventiveness and visual appeal of video game violence. But it had to offer something more than head-snapping head shots and tracer-firing helicopters spiraling to Earth in a ball of flames.

The action movie’s survival depends on providing the audience with a compelling story line and empathetic characters. In theory.

You could fall asleep for fifteen minutes during Extraction 2, wake up and not spend a single second wondering what you missed. You know what you missed. Either 100 homicides or the build-up to the not-so-rakish Rake’s tearful apology to his ex-wife for bugging-out when their son was dying of cancer.

In terms of empathy, Extraction 2 does everything short of having Chris Helmsworth bring your Mum flowers to get you to like the main character.

Self-deprecating quips from a hospital bed. Carrying a wounded little girl through a firefight. Sharing a wink with said sprog in the middle of an endless gunfight. Most pandering of all, a singular dog cameo. And a chicken.

Only a cold-hearted cynical bastard would fail to cheer Tyler Rake’s never-say-bathroom-break triumph over evil.

Extraction 2’s popularity tells us that a) I’m a cold-hearted cynical bastard and b) these cinematic elements still work, no matter how predictable the sequence of events or one-dimensional the characters.

Even so, the action movie’s advantage over video games is doomed. With deep fake AI “movie stars” and “intelligent” non-player characters, violent video games will be action movies, and action movies will soon be violent video games.

Championship Wrestling has a lot to answer for

No matter how many minions line-up behind an action movie bad guy or what firepower they bring to bear, all of them end with antagonist vs. protagonist hand-to-hand combat.

The Mano-a-Mano finale is such a given I half expect the bad guy’s camp followers to tell the boss “Dude! Everyone knows we’re cannon fodder. This is on you.” In E2’s case, someone does. Not that he’s thanked for it.

An entire army of militarized, Bible-worshipping, AR and RPG-carrying “family members” and helicopter-borne baddies bite the dust or die falling into a pool or off a roof (but never in love) before the final showdown. Not that anyone cares.

That’s after the Extractor takes 21 minutes out of his busy day to shoot, stab, slash, bash and blow up dozens of Georgian n’er do wells in the aforementioned set piece bloodbath.

I blame Championship Wrestling. He’s down! He’s out! But wait! He’s not! He’s wounded, but, but, but.. he wins! How? It’s the triumph of the will! (No apologies to Leni Riefenstahl.)

This tell us that Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of Hollywood cocaine addicts. Then again, Ralph never got a movie deal. So there is that.

Volkswagens are irredeemably dull

In the opening scene, the Extractor extricates his sister-in-law and her brood in a pair of bulletproof Mercedes’ G-Wagons and a ballistically impervious Land Rover Defender.

Never mind that the rear vehicle – a Landie codenamed “Eagle” – is blown up, killing all on board. The main characters don’t. Nor do they seem to mind that the movie puts them in a succession of boring AF Volkswagen sedans and a VW Touareg SUV.

Product placement pays big bills, but Rake Tyler got the short end of the stick. Auto box? Adding insult to inevitable injuries, the bad guy gets to sashay into his private air hanger in a Mercedes S-Class.

When Rake roars off for the final confrontation, he jumps into a Volkswagen pickup truck. Light bars or not, it’s easily the least cool vehicle I’ve ever seen in an action movie (aside from all the other VW’s in E2).

The fact that Chris Helmsworth owns a VW Amarok pickup – a 201hp grocery getter that ambles from zero to sixty in 7.5 seconds and tops out at 119 mph – does nothing to raise E2’s action movie awesomeness quotient. And much to degrade it.

Extraction 2’s boring ass automobiles tells us B.B. King saw it coming. In these times, when gas guzzlers are public enemy number two (after AI) and Netflix is cutting budgets, the thrill is gone.

And there you have it

I think I’ve proven the significance of Extraction 2 in the grand scheme of things. Not nothing, but let’s face it: nothing much.

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