Will Jordan, The Critical Drinker, is a novelist and movie critic who has built an incredibly solid following online with his poignant, concise, comical, and pitch perfect performance as a sloshed and jaded reviewer of movies. His takes and critical analysis of the media we consume for entertainment and his healthy dose of realism in his take on action scenes, story development, character development, and how we value a sense of realness even in our fantasies has made him a favorite of mine for stepping outside the firearm circles.
However, he touches on the firearm circles quiet a bit simply due to the fact that he reviews action movies and writes action/military style fiction. His Ryan Drake character is an SAS Operator turned CIA team lead and is exactly the type of character we see in the Russo Brother’s ‘Extraction‘
Here is four minutes on why Extraction was so successful from Will’s perspective, and I hope you’ll drop in and hit that subscribe button to hear more. He’s a shrewd Scotsman.
Now, Extraction itself is one of my favorite movies. It is probably the most successful modernization I have seen on the 80’s action hero brand with a proper adjustment for the audiences expectations of greater realism.
Chris Hemsworth’s Tyler Rake is a proper one man wrecking crew on the screen but you never get the sense he’s invincible, and we get that backed up as he takes some pretty stellar injuries and fatigue. He powers through them though and keeps making sure he ends up on the winning end of each fight by fighting aggressively and smart, reacting quickly and decisively to keep himself and his charge alive.
Detailed consideration was taken with the antagonist elements, too. The foil character is just as skilled as Rake himself, and has a genuinely understandable motive, so that their fight feels high stakes and properly developed, even early on. The ‘BBEG’ (Big Bad Evil Guy) is a sophisticated character also, a powerful drug lord who is exercising his control and using underlings intelligently, so he too feels like a genuine threat at all times. Nobody acts like an imbecile just because they are a ‘bad guy’ *stares judgmentally at Lucas Film*
There is none of the Hollywood laziness in weakening bad guys to comically absurd levels, radically shifting risk factors with no reason, or overuse of coincidence in getting characters into or out of trouble. This builds right alongside with the care taken to make the characters look skilled, even to the eyes of people who have some of those real life skills, at running and gunning. You’re left with the genuine sense that the cops, military, and gangster street thugs of Bangladesh aren’t just NPC’s to be blasted by our protagonist, they’re genuine scaled threats that Rake just happens to out fight because he is an elite operator, but who could get lucky and get him too or overwhelm him with sheer numbers. They feel like the realistic threat a street thug, or poorly trained third world/second world cop or regional soldier would pose to a highly trained operator, but one who is on his own protecting an HVT.
It isn’t Commando, where the bad guys are NPC targets for the infinity ammo guns that Arnold brings to blow them away, all as we enjoy the absurdity for its own sake. It strikes closer to something like Black Hawk Down or 13 Hours, while being fiction and a classic darker hero’s journey.
Ultimately, it is what happens when good story tellers give us a good story without worrying about it being particularly “new” or edgy.
The Old Guard is an example of where that fails rather badly, despite having all the elements necessary to succeed. Time was spent on irrelevant items that someone somewhere thought were character development, that instead landed as somewhere between silly and absurd, hit some minor wokeness brackets, but even in the rule of the universe as established didn’t make much sense.
Small cadre of immortal super warriors, got it. That’s established as part of canon. But then we added shallow attempts at “staying anonymous” that were a waste of film time and poorly executed from a logical standpoint and a sliding scale for bad guy threat levels where they kind of were a threat but were also bumbling idiots immediately after that. The elements were there for a good run at it, but it came off like fan fiction or junior college plot writing instead. Not developed, not fully baked, nobody put it through a logical reading to see if immersion and suspension of disbelief were maintained. And all too often the excuse made for not staying within the rules of your new fiction are that it ‘is’ fiction, and that is just a copout for weak writing. Sure, nobody is actually immortal so we’re breaking a hard rule of reality on that one, but it isn’t overly difficult to scale around this and still challenge your characters rationally. Wolverine, anyone?
Then we have utter crap like ‘Hard Kill’ which I am actually surprised Joe Russo allowed his name on. It was just every one of the worst action tropes thrown into a blender without even the decency of an entertaining execution (like the Expendables has) and hoping a star’s name would net it a few dollars. I’m almost wondering if that was a bet project that somebody lost and had to make, or an obligation someone had to someone to make their terrible pet fan fiction project a movie that finally got called in. But there can be its own inverse sense of enjoyment to watching a terrible flick too.