Sam Hargrave knew the pressure was on once the official numbers had been crunched. Extraction, the first movie he’d ever directed, had bulldozed its way onto Netflix’s all-time most-streamed original films list, with almost 100 million households tuning in during its first 28 days on the platform.
With an extraordinary 231 million hours streamed in that timeframe, Extraction has held seventh spot on that list ever since. So, when pre-production began on its sequel, creatively titled Extraction 2, Hargrave knew there was only one way to exceed the original: by going bigger and bolder.
“There was this immediate pressure to deliver,” Hargrave tells TechRadar. “We had a feeling of ‘Oh gosh, we can’t make a second one that sucks’. The challenge was to say ‘Right, as storytellers and fans ourselves, what story do we want to tell? Where do we want to take [protagonist] Tyler Rake this time and why?’. For me, it was about diving deeper into his backstory and the emotional side of the character. But, as an action fan, I knew we had to do something bigger and better in the action space.”
What do you fight for?
Extraction 2 picks up nine months after the first film. Black ops mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) has spent that time rehabilitating from the serious wounds, and near-fatal fall into (and subsequently almost drowning in) Bangladesh’s Buriganga River, during Extraction’s explosive finale.
Rake now lives a peaceful existence in the Austrian Alps, but his tranquil life is disturbed when the mysterious agent Alcott (Idris Elba) unexpectedly turns up with a job offer: rescue a gangster’s abused family from a Georgian prison. Initially, Rake refuses the assignment. However, when Rake learns he has a personal stake in said mission, he assembles a crack team of operatives – including trusted allies Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani) and her brother Yaz (Adam Bessa) – to liberate Ketevan Radiani (Tinatin Dalakishvili) and her children Sandro (Andro Japaridze) and Nina (Mariami Kovziashvili). And maybe, just maybe, he’ll earn the redemption he internally seeks.
With Extraction electing to put spectacle before thematic resonance, Hargrave knew that, to give audiences something new they could personally relate to, the next phase of Rake’s journey had to be emotionally engaging.
However, doing so couldn’t come at the expense of outshining the movie’s breathless action scenes. After all, Extraction 2 is an action-first movie, so finding that balance between Rake’s emotional arc and its combat sequences, as Hargrave puts it, was “very important to us as storytellers [but] also very challenging. We wanted to pay homage to the character in a truthful way that would satisfy audiences and ensure this movie isn’t completely covered in gunfire, but challenge him just as much physically as we do emotionally.”
Changing the action set-piece game
Necessary though these poignant story beats are for Rake’s evolution as a character, high-stakes, action-heavy set pieces are the main draw of a movie like Extraction 2 – and it certainly has some pulsating, edge-of-your-seat encounters. From an explosive, gun battle in Vienna, which sees Rake and company pinned down by the antagonistic Zurab’s (Tornike Gogrichiani) forces, to the final showdown between Rake and his adversary, Extraction 2 is packed with tense, violent fights.
Added together, Extraction 2 contains twice the action its predecessor does – an extraordinary visual and aural feast that speaks to the ‘bigger and bolder’ approach Hargrave, Hemsworth, and lead writer Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War) envisioned from the beginning.
No action sequence was more ambitious, demanding, or intricately assembled than Extraction 2’s ‘oner’ – an uninterrupted, long take sequence that’s seemingly shot on a single camera. The first film’s ‘oner’ clocked in at a decent nine minutes, but Hargrave and co knew they could easily eclipse that runtime on this occasion.
Spread across 30 of the script’s 124 pages, Extraction 2’s mind-blowing, 21-minute-long ‘oner’ was supposed to take just 29 days to film. Due to various on-set issues, though, Extraction 2’s action-packed one-shot sequence took four grueling months to shoot.
And, numerous problems aside, with good reason. The ‘oner’ comprises three main acts. In the first stage, Rake breaks the family out of the jail, fighting their way out of a nightmarish active prison riot as they go. In act two, a frenetic, in-your-face car and bike chase sequence sees Rake and company flee from Zurab’s armed gang of thugs. Lastly, they make their way across the border from Georgia to Austria on a speeding train as their pursuers attempt to stop them by any means necessary.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it came to meticulously planning Extraction 2’s ‘oner’. The three acts aren’t actually captured in sequential order using a single camera. Instead, thanks to lots of camera-based trickery and seamless transitions, the ‘oner’ is broken down into smaller segments, which are shot out of sequence on different cameras and spliced together in post-production, giving audiences the illusion of an unbroken set-piece.
Impressively, Extraction 2’s long-form action scene was realized and completed with few visual effects (VFX). Any computer-based imagery, such as the last scene involving the train crash, was used as sparingly as possible and only applied to enhance the visual experience.
“The DNA of this franchise is about doing things on camera as much as possible,” Hargreaves explains. “There’s something tangible about real stunts performed by real people and, as a human being, you see that and know it’s real. So much of what we shot is practical that, when we do augment scenes with VFX, it’s harder for people to tell when you’ve put in a distant CGI background, or a set extension if you’re shooting in another location. So we used that to our advantage, but it was a very, very rare occurrence."
In the line of fire
Spectacular as the ‘oner’ is, shooting a set piece of this scale as practically as possible was incredibly risky and dangerous. From racing cars and bikes on narrow roads through a forest to setting Chris Hemsworth on fire for the bruising prison yard fight scene, Extraction 2 put its cast and stunt teams through the wringer.
Unsurprisingly, plenty of pre-planning went into ensuring the ‘oner’ was as safe and intricately devised as possible. That included hiring numerous safety managers, a huge medical team, and expert stunt performers with years of experience under their belts.
In fact, the numbers behind the whole sequence are staggering. Over 400 stunt performers and extras were used in the prison yard sequence. Hemsworth also learned 5,000 choreographed moves and underwent a week of live fire training for the seconds-long scene where Rake’s right arm is set ablaze by a Molotov cocktail.
For the motorbike and car chase section, over 150 vehicles were rented for the sequence – 116 more were bought to refit for filming purposes and/or blow up. At any one time, eight vehicles were traveling down a 14-foot wide path at 65 kilometers an hour (kph) / 40 miles per hour (mph). As for the train sequence, seven carriages were sent barrelling down a 36-mile stretch of rail and, at some point, a helicopter – piloted by Fred North, a legendary airman with over 200 filmmaking credits – would land on said train. Amazingly, it was North’s idea to try to pull off such a stunt. And, after rehearsing the extremely ambitious and perilous scene over 100 times, North and team only needed two attempts to successfully complete the 22-second-long segment on the day of the shoot.
“The danger element was so high,” Hargrave reveals. “Everyone had to be laser focused at all times. During rehearsal, we had three weeks on location before we turned in the first frame, just to make sure we knew what we were doing, when we were doing it, and how we were going to do it. Then, if something went south, how would we react? Our producer Patrick Newall brought in an air and rescue military team so that, in case of an emergency, we had military medics on hand. We were based in remote locations, in subzero temperatures, and on a moving train doing 80 kph (50 mph), so things could have gone bad very quickly.”
Given the very real risks associated with shooting its ‘oner’, Extraction 2’s cast and crew only had two notable injuries during production: Farahani dislocating her shoulder during fight rehearsals, and Dalakishvili slipping and breaking her leg while filming the prison yard riot. Bravely, the duo chose to carry on filming, but not before being vigorously examined by medics to ensure they could continue.
Hargrave, who put himself in harm’s way to shoot Extraction’s aggressive car chase three years earlier, regularly got too close to the action as well. The film’s director took up dangerous positions to shoot parts of the ‘oner’, including hanging off the side of a car for the forest-based sequence, and filming the train roof’s minigun skirmish between Rake and a weapons-heavy helicopter, to provide an immersive viewing experience.
To achieve those engaging shots, new and returning technologies were used to put viewers at the center of the action. The Magic Spectre, a gadget Hargrave and director of photography Greg Baldi conceived for Extraction, was one such device. A stabilized gimbal at the end of a carbon fiber pole, itself attached to a Red Komodo camera, the Magic Spectre allows one operator to capture the action up close, while a remote operator controls its movement.
“We could put the camera in front of a vehicle, or on a UTV [utility terrain vehicle] and go through the mud, through the trees,” Hargrave says. “That allowed us to put the camera right inside the vehicle the actors were in and then pull it back out. It’s a lot more nimble than a traditional U-Crane, so you could really get in close proximity to our cast in the heat of the moment.”
The Magic Spectre didn’t come as handy for the train sequence, though. As Hargrave reveals, the filmmaking crew had to run along the train’s seven carriages to capture every second of its heart-pounding action. Fixing the Magic Spectre to a set point on one of the carriages, then, wouldn’t have given them the shots they needed during lengthy takes.
“If I ran across the top of a carriage, I couldn’t climb down fast enough [to keep up with the scene],” Hargrave says. “We thought about passing the camera between operators at different points but, while we wanted to capture that gritty and handheld feel, it would have been nausea-inducing for viewers.
“We wanted to steady the camera without losing the kinetic energy of the sequence, so we made a number of different rigs that were stabilized. That let me or another operator run with the camera rig in hand, but the actual operating was done by a monitor, which was attached wirelessly to a gimbal. Another crew member could pan this device to the right, and that would turn the camera to the right without me needing to move my arms. If they needed to tilt the camera, they could do that remotely, too. The operator was responding as if they were there but you didn’t get the camera bounce from me running around.”
Suffice to say, the results speak for themselves. As we noted in our Extraction 2 review, the action movie’s ‘oner’ is the undisputed highlight of its two-hour runtime. And, with the film setting up the potential for a third Extraction movie or even a spin-off, you can bet that similar techniques will be used if Hargrave returns to helm another entry in the franchise.
For now, the stuntman-turned-director is just looking to recharge after the flick’s draining four-month shoot and subsequent global press tour. Before attention turns to what comes next, too, Hargrave is eager to take stock of the incredible technical achievement he, the cast, and the crew pulled off with Extraction 2’s highly ambitious long take.
“We’ll see what audiences think, but hopefully we succeeded in creating something magical,” Hargrave adds. “It was one of the biggest challenges I’ve undertaken, with lots of work going on after hours and during holidays, but we squeezed every ounce out of this so audiences can be fulfilled. It was extremely ambitious, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my filmmaking career.”
Extraction 2 is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.
An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.
Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.
Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.