From Thor to Fat Thor and various roles in between, Chris Hemsworth has never been shy about using silliness to subvert his god-like good looks. Drawn like a Times Square caricature of an Abercrombie & Fitch model, the Australian star has always been willing and able to shape the absurdity of his sex appeal into the punchline of a joke that we’re all in on together, or at least use it to suspend our disbelief in a cartoonish movie world that would otherwise be impossible to accept with a straight face. (See: “Blackhat.” No, really, see it — it’s good).
In that light, it’s pretty tempting to laugh when the hot but haunted mercenary Hemsworth plays in “Extraction” is formally introduced during a scene in which he’s roused from a drunken stupor on the edge of a cliff, jumps off a skyscraper-sized waterfall that’s high enough to horrify lesser men, and then sobers up by meditating at the bottom of the lake. When the character’s name is revealed to be Tyler Rake — too generic for a spit-take, but too ridiculous to swallow — there’s reason to hope that “Extraction” is only pretending to be a serious action film with the soul of a paperback thriller, and that the Russo brothers have actually convinced Netflix to shell out a small fortune on some kind of stone-faced “Jack Reacher” parody.
Alas, self-awareness proves not to be one of this movie’s small but potent handful of strengths, and hopes of Hemsworth being able to charm his way through it are almost as short-lived as the hundreds of faceless henchmen who Tyler Rake slaughters over the next 100 minutes. As the simple premise of “Extraction” snaps into view, even the relative complexity of a Lee Child novel begins to seem far out of reach. By the time the first act crescendos with an 11-minute long-take in which Rake murders enough people to be considered a liberal hoax, this visceral but derivative shoot-em-up has reduced itself to something of a watered down cross between “The Raid” and “Man on Fire,” with little hope of claiming any clear personality of its own. With Hemsworth boxed in by a movie that won’t allow him to have any fun, the only real consolation here is that director Sam Hargrave takes the action as seriously as he does everything else.
Written by Joe Russo (in a loose adaptation of his own graphic novel), and co-produced with his brother Anthony, “Extraction” marks the sibling duo’s first major foray into streaming since the historic success of “Avengers: Endgame.” For the most part, however, it feels as if the project’s most essential creative voice belongs to first-time director Sam Hargrave, who initially pinged on the Russos’ radar after working as Chris Evans’ stunt double in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Following in the recent footsteps of former stunt coordinators like “John Wick” co-director Chad Stahelski, Hargrave steps behind the camera for a brutal and relentless action extravaganza that relishes its violence the way a David Mamet film might savor its dialogue. Like “John Wick” or “Atomic Blonde” (the latter of which bears Hargrave’s bruising imprint), “Extraction” displays an almost poetic command of close-up combat. Unlike those films, however, this one has no idea how to express itself whenever the killing stops.
In that sense, “Extraction” has a lot in common with, say, a reckless mercenary who runs suicide missions because he’s better at inflicting trauma than processing his own. It would be a bit too generous to call Tyler Rake a “character” (he’s more like an open wound that scabbed into giant muscles instead of a scar), but that doesn’t stop the world’s most elegant arms dealer (Golshifteh Farahani) from hiring him to rescue the 14-year-old son of a Mumbai druglord after the boy is kidnapped by his father’s menacing Bangladeshi rival (Indian heartthrob Priyanshu Painyuli, leaning into the villain role with the kind of entitled menace that can only be described as “Kushner-adjacent”).
And that’s basically it: Tyler shoots his way through the streets of Dhaka, plucks the terrified young Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) from a pile of fresh corpses like a pearl from the mouth of a clam, and then tries to escape from the citadel-like city with the package intact. Hargrave and his crew make excellent use of locations throughout India, Thailand, and Bangladesh; Ovi’s lavish but lonely mausoleum of a house is more expressive than the character itself is ever allowed to be, while Dhaka’s cluttered streets teem with life (and the palpable threat of collateral damage).
It’s a good thing the film’s geography is so dynamic, because most scenes in “Extraction” are only differentiated by how people die. Sometimes Tyler Rake kills people with a gun, sometimes Tyler Rake kills people with a car, and sometimes Tyler Rake kills people with the giant wads of meat and bone that branch out of his wrists. The question isn’t if Tyler Rake will kill someone with a rake, but how (Hargrave arrives at the right answer). Simplicity can be a virtue in a movie so driven by shoot-outs, but Russo’s threadbare script isn’t rich enough to elevate constant stimuli into genuine spectacle.
Tyler’s whole “guilt-ridden soldier with a secret” thing leans into every trope that it seems poised to subvert — David Harbour drops in for a second act exposition dump that confirms all your worst suspicions and stops the movie dead in its tracks — while the film itself hardly musters any interest in Tyler and Ovi’s surrogate family bond. Both of them are desperate for the love they’ve lost or never had, but any such emotional stirrings are suffocated under a smoggy pile of Redbox-ready genre tics. When the villain barks at his goons that he “wants every gun in Dhaka pointed at this guy!,” you realize the film’s palpable sense of place has succumbed to its generic self-identity.
And yet, “Extraction” is most flavorful along the margins. The limits of survivalism are better explored through a few minor characters than they are the film’s leads; it’s particularly rewarding to follow one scrappy kid’s tragic rise from the Bangladeshi slums to the upper ranks of the villain’s organization, as he takes the only path life makes available to him. His arc isn’t motivated by bravery or cowardice so much as the absence of any choice altogether, and it elegantly dovetails with Tyler’s journey before all is said and done. It also gives Hargrave a good excuse to shoot Hemsworth beating the absolute crap out of some overmatched children, but that’s just an incidental bonus.
If “Extraction” is at its best when its characters collapse into the same space, then perhaps it’s fitting that Hargrave’s debut will be remembered for the elaborate long-take that bleeds across the middle of the movie. It’s an impressive feat, but — like much of this steroidal misfire — the shot is too enthralled by its own capacity for violence to have any real fun with it. Despite evincing a natural flair for carnage that should make Hargrave a valuable Hollywood presence for a long time to come, the oner here is stitched together from a number of discrete shots in a way that makes you question the reality of what you’re seeing, rather than marvel at it.
“The Raid 2” made this kind of thing en vogue, and the likes of “Atomic Blonde” managed to fake it so real, but “Extraction” pulls just a few too many of the wrong punches. There’s a fine line between awe and tedium, and sometimes not even Chris Hemsworth is able to blur it for us.
“Extraction” will be available to stream on Netflix starting April 24.
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