Directed by Sam Hargrave
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Golshifteh Farahani
I will always remember that the last movie I watched in a theater before COVID-19 clamped its jaws shut on my mobility was Bloodshot, a Vin Diesel vehicle that at least made the effort to couch its riff on Total Recall in state-of-the-art CGI. But by then it was obvious that the bar for 21st-century action movies had been dropping lower and lower for quite some time. You had the increasingly outlandish but still lucrative Fast and the Furious franchise, and critics were dazzled by John Wick’s wink-wink humor and adroit world-building. But by Keanu Reeves’ redundant third outing and Dwayne Johnson’s soulless banter with Jason Statham in the Hobbs and Shaw spin-off, it was becoming clear that the genre’s creative juices were running thin.
At the heart of this watering-down is an increasing mandate to make action movies and video games more and more indistinguishable from each other. It’s not that they lack character development so much as they lack character. Long gone are movies like In the Line of Fire, where Clint Eastwood’s aging Secret Service agent had a bonafide trauma to deal with while grappling with John Malkovich’s crafty would-be assassin. Or True Lies, where James Cameron managed to mine comedy gold from domestic boredom while having Arnold Schwarzenegger blow up terrorists. These movies required breathing space and demanded a large attention span before they doled out their payoffs. Nowadays, studios are so terrified of their young male demographic tuning out that they need to structure action movies like levels in first-person-shooter games: You get instant gratification, but you have no sense of who’s pulling the trigger.
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That sense of anonymity continues in Extraction, Chris Hemsworth’s first original production for Netflix where he plays a mercenary named Tyler Rake—yes, that is his real name—who is hired to rescue Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the kidnapped son of an imprisoned crime kingpin (Pankaj Tripathi). When we first meet him, Tyler casually walks off a cliff and plummets to the lake below, where he then sits in meditation under the waters. Hemsworth glowers and frowns while he sits in submerged lotus position, and that’s about all the indication we get that this is a character dealing with grief and personal pain. Elsewhere, we get a tiny visual gag when Tyler gets taken to a slum in Dhaka by a bunch of thugs and kills one of them with—you guessed it—a rake.
I get it: You don’t stream movies like this looking for subtle character shading. The problem with Extraction is that the screenplay by fellow Marvel alumnus Joe Russo (based on a graphic novel he co-wrote; brother Anthony is on board as producer) has the people around Hemsworth doing a lot more. Tyler’s handler Niki (Golshifteh Farahani) is given to sage pronouncements (“You keep spinning the chamber hoping you’ll catch a bullet”) and snappy exposition (“Biggest drug lord in India against the biggest drug lord in Bangladesh”). The boyish drug lord Amir (Priyanshu Painyuli) who abducted Ovi commands his henchmen to throw a child off a roof and orders another to cut off two fingers for stealing, because apparently just one won’t do.
Extraction gets a much-needed shot of juice when things get a bit sedate with the appearance of Stranger Things’ David Harbour as Tyler’s former colleague. Harbour, walking around barefoot in baggy shorts, manages to offset his character’s moral decay with a bumbling expat vibe—and walks away with the two scenes he has with Hemsworth.
Apparently, after demonstrating his crack comic timing with Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame, Hemsworth opted to show off his dramatic chops. But he strayed too far in the opposite direction, tamping down his natural charisma in favor of drama that’s a tad too purple for the sickly yellow palette that cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (Drive) uses to signify a chaotic, Third World capital.
What you can’t fault Extraction for are the action sequences that director Sam Hargrave mounts with such gorgeous detail. After Tyler rescues Ovi with nary a hitch, Amir has a Bangladeshi colonel (Shataf Figar) in his employ lock down the city. This point is where Hargrave—who served as a stuntman, stunt coordinator and second unit director for Avengers: Endgame—really proves his mettle. The fight scenes play out like brutal ballet, and there is an elegance to the camera work that is obvious to see. There’s even a bravura set piece that plays out in one single take over 12 minutes, starting out as a car chase, then an intricate pursuit through a cramped tenement, before ending as a knockdown street brawl. It’s all flawlessly executed…but it’s been done many times before. That’s what is so frustrating about Extraction: It’s flavorless despite being a well-done slab of action steak.
Extraction is currently streaming on Netflix.
Photographs from Netfix