Extraction (Netflix) makes for a brain dead but reasonably exciting shoot ‘em up showcasing Chris Hemsworth’s physicality at the expense of his sense of humor.
Every so often, an action movie comes along that leaves its mark on the genre to such a degree that other action movies all seem derivative. Die Hard moved us beyond steroidal action figure heroes and made snappy banter the norm. The Matrix revolutionized the use of slow motion and camera movement in action scenes. The Bourne series made choppy, visceral editing the norm. Recently, John Wick has become the signature series in action. Inspired by the growth of hardcore Asian martial arts movies like The Raid: Redemption, the Chad Stahelsk/David Leitch flick added a very American influence on gunplay.
The Wick films became feats of technical prowess – long shots made clear Keanu Reeves was performing his own stunts and the action synced with the film’s music in a near balletic arrangement of gunshots and jiu jitsu. John Wick, however, unlike most of its progeny, is self-aware about its own absurdity. Our plot? So simple, and yet delightfully over-the-top: Russian gangsters kill a hitman’s puppy so he sets off to murder the entire Russian gang. Everyone is on the joke and embracing the fundamental absurdity of this sort of film.
Extraction is really not in on the joke. The plot is a self-serious morass about a man coming to terms with loss in how own life through the brutal murder of hundreds of extras. Chris Hemsworth (Thor: Ragnarok) plays the dopily named Tyler Rake, a military man turned mercenary, who appears to have committed himself to booze and bloodshed to fix the hole in his life. Of course this mission to, ahem, extract a young boy held captive by a Bangladeshi drug lord tugs at his unused heartstrings.
The backstory is hokey and ineffective. Hemsworth does his best to sell the character’s dramatic arc, but nobody could sell this dialogue. The inevitable scene where he describes his tragic backstory to his young ward feels less like an emotional outpouring and more like a job interview. A few other characters show up with some measure of backstory, most notably Randeep Hooda (Once Upon a Time in Mumbaii) and David Harbour (Stranger Things) to shake things up. The problem is that it’s all so damn serious. Hemsworth’s great gift as an actor – a gift which producers Joe and Anthony Russo (directors of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame) should recognize better than anyone – is a surprisingly light, goofy comedic touch. I do not think Hemsworth so much as smiles in this entire movie, let alone cracking a joke. Nobody who chooses to watch Extraction is here for searing insights into the human condition. We’re here to watch badass action.
The action filmmaking here is reasonably impressive. Director Sam Hargrave has an interesting background story. He’s worked his way up from being Chris Evans’ Captain America stunt double to second unit directing on the recent Avengers movies to his feature film debut here. He crafts visceral, effective, cogent action sequences. It appears little details matter to him in the editing room. The grappling between our hero and a villain will always take the extra beat to show Hemsworth reposition his body in a way that would make a move more credible in real life. These choices reward the viewer with slightly more compelling, credible action sequences. Also noteworthy, Extraction’s only humor occurs in its action scenes. From a comedic escalation of hit and runs to a graphic deployment of hero Tyler Rake’s namesake, I can’t help but wonder what Sam Hargrave might achieve with a wittier action screenplay.
Extraction’s calling card is a bravura “one shot” depicting a car chase through Dhaka with interludes for shootouts and extended fisticuffs. While the shot is obviously fake (1917 this is not), it absolutely delivers the action goods. One shots in action movies serve to showcase the craft of the stuntmen and actors. Not only is the action more immersive, but the athleticism of the performers is allowed to take center stage. Here, Hemsworth shows solid athleticism. He is not on the level of an Iko Uwais or a David Belle or even a Keanu Reeves, but he moves well and looks credible.
Extraction certainly seems to be the sort of movie that would most benefit from a theatrical release instead of just appearing on your Netflix queue one Spring morning. It feels big, epic and loud. It is very obviously the sort of movie that would improve with the opening night audience experience. But I digress… If watching Chris Hemsworth murder hundreds of extras appeals to you, you’ll probably enjoy the sugar rush of this movie. But if you want the vegetables of intellect with your shooting, search elsewhere.