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The 21-Minute Action Oner Is the Only Reason to Watch ‘Extraction 2’

By Seth Freilich | Film | June 19, 2023 |

By Seth Freilich | Film | June 19, 2023 |


Before talking extractions, let’s talk about film one-shots, colloquially called “oners.” Most scenes in films are comprised of a number of cuts — according to a 2010 study, the average film between 1910 and 2010 had about 1,132 cuts. These days, action films tend to have 1.5x to 3x that many, particularly as the quick-cut action thing has taken more and more root (to the frustration of viewers who actually want to see, understand, and appreciate the choreography and logistics of a good action scene). A oner, meanwhile, is simply an extended sequence with no actual cuts. Oners are designed to appear as if they were filmed as one continuous take, though often there are cuts, like when a camera passes by a wall, through CGI smoke, etc.

The most famous oner in movie history is probably from Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil, while the best one ever done is arguably in Alfonso Cuarón’s always under-appreciated Children of Men. When done well, a oner helps immerse us deeper into the film’s narrative and action. When done poorly, it can do the opposite, coming off as a gimmick that highlights the technique and forces us to focus on the form rather than the substance. As the headline suggests, Extraction 2 features a 20+ minute one-shot (almost doubling the length of the original film’s 12-minute oner) which is mostly the former, immersive, and at times breathtaking.

Speaking of the original, the first Extraction got a lot of eyeballs and, over a few weeks, became Netflix’s most-watched original movie at the time (at least by Netflix’s very black box/fuzzy math standards). Some of this may be because the film had some decent action set pieces, highlighted by that oner. But I suspect the viewership was due more to the fact that the film came out in late April 2020, the early days of lockdown when we all had fuck-all to do. Most of the action, including that one-shot, was decent enough, but Extraction ultimately felt derivative and wasn’t helped any by being wrapped in an unnecessary white savior narrative. It was not a movie that begged for a sequel, but here we are.

The first film ended with an unfocused glimpse of Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) watching the kid he had saved, showing that he inexplicably survived his seeming death at the end of a preposterous bridge shoot-out. This film starts by showing how he survived, which doesn’t help make it any less preposterous. Rake has since retired but is called back into action by an old friend to help rescue his sister-in-law and her family from a prison they’re being held in by her husband, who is part of a pair of Georgian brother drug lords. It doesn’t matter. Rake has to do an extraction, but this is the sequel, so he has to extract more people. He gets his partner Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani, returning from the first one) and her brother to help him. Extraction ensues, and fallout from said extraction follows, etc.

What you want to know about is the 26-minute mark. That’s when director Sam Hargrave starts his attempt to one-up his oner in the first flick. It’s the main reason to watch this film, frankly. Coming from a stunt coordinator background, Hargrave is one of those who still want to keep effects as practical as possible, and according to Hemsworth, 95% of this 21-minute chunk was practical and real. That effort pays off. Much like with John Wick: Chapter Four, proper practical action is refreshing after the diminishing returns of things like the MCU’s overwrought CGI or The Flash’s absolutely awful graphics. And for most of the next 21 minutes in this film, Hargrave delivers action sequences that immerse you in the scale and scope of the action, pulling you along with frenetic energy.

Take, for example, what was the highlight of the whole film for me. Rake and Co. have found themselves in the middle of a courtyard prison riot, the type of scene we have all seen countless times. The guards eventually synch up and march with their riot shields to start pushing the mad crowd back. But the way Hargrave used this running one-shot to get us there, with the response happening around the action and then bursting into frame, it creates a unique propulsion that was rad. The rest of this extended scene has a few similar moments I won’t spoil, and some excellent action and stunt choreography, ultimately blowing the first film’s oner out of the water.

The rest of the film has good action sequences with a few standout moments, but nothing reaches the level of this 21-minute sprint. On the plus side, at least the wonderful Farahani is given more to do than in the first film. On the negative side, the film continues to use Hemsworth in the wrong way. It’s not that he’s bad in this (nor was he in the first one). It’s that this dour, sour version of Hemsworth is not interesting to watch. One of the several reasons that Thor: Ragnorok surpasses the first two relative duds is because the film unleashes the best version of Hemsworth, where he is allowed to be amusing and have fun (see, also, Cabin in the Woods and Ghostbusters). Against that, he can then dip into mad, sad, etc., and the contrast between these two versions of him makes the latter more interesting. Here, he punches and shoots and bleeds well, and he acts well enough in the handful of emotional scenes, but it doesn’t entirely engage.

The film ends in a way that, more explicitly than the first, sets itself up for another sequel. And just as the first one didn’t need a follow-up, nor does this one. There is absolutely no reason for an Extraction 3, particularly because it would include a beloved actor introduced briefly in this film who, if they similarly stifle his charm, would be a complete waste. And yet, despite the generic plot, derivative action scenes, and the other issues I raised above, that 21-minute scene, man. If Hargrave can keep giving us things that work like that, I’ll sit through all the rest.