Extraction 2, Bloody Daddy, FUBAR: Why old-school action finds ready fan base in OTT space

When Chris Hemsworth returns as the rugged action hero Tyler Rake in this week’s big OTT release Extraction 2, the touted highlight of the film is a fight sequence that lasts around 21 minutes. In a chat with Good Morning America, the actor talked about shooting the sequence over “six weeks” and with “three or four hundred extras”, recalling “stunt rehearsal after stunt rehearsal” through a schedule that often lasted “14 hours a day”. Hemsworth’s assertion that the Extraction 2 experience has been “by far the most exhausting, physically draining, taxing experience I’ve ever had” has garnered more fan buzz than interest in whether the film’s storyline might have something original to offer.

The sequel, the trailer promises, will maintain the old-school ultraviolence that made the first film a smash hit in 2020 despite its lack of a cohesive plot. In the Sam Hargrave-directed original, Tyler Rake, an Aussie black-ops mercenary, is assigned with saving the kidnapped son of an Indian underworld don played by Pankaj Tripathi with, of course, a twist of double cross thrown in. Hargrave has retained the template in the sequel. This time, rescue expert Rake and his team engage in a high-voltage, set-piece action drama smattered with gore in order to rescue the family of a Georgian gangster from a high-security prison.

Gloss over all déjà vu syndromes about sequels, and Extraction 2 indicates a thriving trend on OTT. The much-hyped film is in sync with a pattern that has been emerging across streaming platforms for a while now. Mainstream cinema banking on retro-style violence, riding low on fresh story idea but executed with uncomplicated and larger-than-life treatment, finds ready takers in the OTT space, even as action flicks aimed for big screen release are by and large getting complex, technically and in terms of themes.

Played-to-gallery action films and series have become regular releases across streaming platforms these days. In just the last few weeks, there have been releases such as the Shahid Kapoor-film Bloody Daddy, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s OTT debut series FUBAR or the French dark comedy thriller Medellin. Retro-style action fare that has enjoyed brisk viewership on OTT lately also includes the Jennifer Lopez-starrer The Mother, the French action thriller AKA and a bunch of recent Bruce Willis releases including his last work, Assassin, besides several international language films in the genre.

Conceptually and in the commercial sense, these apparently unlike films and series bear a similarity. These are all efforts to set up a narrative where the sheer significance of action quota trumps storyline or other production aspects. These films and series thriving on OTT follow a formula that ruled the action genre till around the nineties. On the other hand, most new-generation directors of theatrically-released action films tend to move away from such old-school formula where the stunt quotient is supreme. New-age action for the big screen must have a deeper context, beyond all-out violence. It is a fact underlined by the success of some of the biggest big screen action hits in recent times, such as the Mission Impossible films, Top Gun: Maverick and the Creed series.

Yet Extraction hero Hemsworth, who also toplines the film’s co-production credits along with Avengers bosses Anthony and Joe Russo, knows only too well that a huge market for old-school action fare continues to exist everywhere. This is ratified by the fact that the first Extraction film, despite its aimlessness and predictable plot, easily raked in over 99 million (9.9 crore) views in four weeks. Extraction 2 is expected to go far bigger in terms of numbers.

The numbers, however, are obviously not enough for theatrical business. That is where the streaming space comes in, with its global reach and direct access to homes. Financially, theatrical business is dwindling worldwide and the audience would no longer pay to watch aimless cliches, no matter the star. Brute force alone no longer draws crowds at the ticket windows. It is a reason the last of Sylvester Stallone’s iconic Rambo series failed to make a mark. On the other hand, his other classic franchise, Rocky, managed a socio-cultural redefinition through the brilliant Creed films, and survived.

Lately, the few films adhering to the classic action mould that have clicked globally in theatres have included the John Wick flicks, mainly owing to the smart marketing spin around lead actor Keanu Reeves’ image. One would also have to mention the Fast & Furious films that have attained pop-classic stature mixing sleek action with family melodrama — the unlikely blend giving these films a USP. From the Indian perspective, last year’s RRR was a textbook lesson on how to package old-school action with suspense drama that caters to new-age audiences. Most importantly, many of these films have had scripts that bank on some sort of a contemporary context.

Old school action fare being dropped directly in the streaming space, on the other hand, does not necessarily have to have a socio-cultural or political context. The violence quotient of the Extraction films or Bloody Daddy needs to have brute force impact but it does not necessarily have to intelligent or relevant.

Vintage machismo, especially of the kind that reigned two to three decades ago, is an added asset for these films, for a simple reason: The generations that grew up watching old-school action fare in the eighties and nineties mostly depend on home entertainment to pass time now, and are no longer the core audience base of cinema halls. A film such as Extraction or its sequel finds an apt audience base in such a target audience group. Hemsworth and the Brothers Russo know well they can easily reach out to this audience base by serving familiar wine in a new bottle, jazzed up with new-age tech-specs. Even if it does not match big screen demands, it would be adequate enough for the mobile and laptop screens that streaming platforms primary reach out to.

Vinayak Chakravorty is a critic, columnist and journalist who loves to write on popular culture.

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