Chris Hemsworth’s character, who is hilariously named Tyler Rake, gets two separate introductions in Extraction. The first is a standard action movie opening, in which the story flashes forward to a key moment in the climax where Rake is left wounded and reflective (Will he live? Will he die? Stay to the end, or since this on Netflix, scroll through to find out!)
The second introduction, which comes approximately ten minutes and several expository setups later, sees Rake in a secluded hideout where he jumps off a cliff and into a lake in order to sober up- the type of easily “gif-able” moment that will surely be featured heavily on Netflix’s digital marketing campaign over the next few weeks. Surely, this would be a great moment for Hemsworth to throw out a one-liner, but instead he sits solemnly at the bottom of a lake; in case you haven’t guessed already, he is a very serious person.
These two openings set up the sort of experience that Extraction ends up being; it’s working safely within the confines of standard action movie mechanics (i.e. drug cartels, mercenaries, car chases, and a whole lot of headshots), and while there’s some wonderfully ridiculous moments, the film isn’t self aware enough to lean into the campier side of a movie about Tyler Rake (who you guessed it, kills somebody with a rake).
That’s not to say that all action movies need to be in the mold of the frantic, comically overstuffed 90s throwback mold, and perhaps director Sam Hargrave and crew were intending to make a very serious movie about a mercenary with a heart of gold. However, a film that sticks this hard to formula really does need to distinguish itself in some way, and Extraction isn’t fun enough to be memorable or developed enough to feel like an elevated take on the genre its aping.
So what is the story? It’s essentially a kidnapping movie turned manhunt, where the 14-year old son of an Indian crime lord, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), is kidnapped by a rival drug lord in Bangladesh. This is where Tyler Rake comes in; he’s a tough as nails mercenary whose “in it for the money” (or so he says), and agrees to save the boy and bring him out of the hostile city. Although the script is penned by Marvel veteran Joe Russo, who managed to instill rather poignant political philosophy into Captain America: The Winter Solider and Captain America: Civil War, don’t expect any nuanced statement about the state of global politics here; this is mostly a movie where Tyler Rake transports Ovi between setpieces like an object (which to the film’s credit, is something Ovi himself acknowledges).
The major draw here isn’t the story, or even Hemsworth himself, but the action sequences. The film’s director, Sam Hargrave, is a longtime stunt coordinator within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his aptitude for labor intensive setpieces is easy to recognize, particularly in the standout 12-minute tracking shot that will surely give the film some notoriety. It’s an impressive sequence that contains some brutal hand-to-hand combat (although there’s a lot of shaky cam and it lacks the pristine edge of something like John Wick), but it mostly exists so that there can be a 12-minute tracking shot.
The scenes that exist between the action draw attention to just how shallow the script really is. There’s a vague idea that Rake is caught in a lifestyle he doesn’t agree with because of traumatic events in his past, but these only exist in a few passing lines of dialogue and don’t transcend the context of the individual scenes. Even the appearance of the energetic David Harbour in a few drawn out scenes fails to instill the film with any sort of real personality.
The thing that stitches these loose odds and ends together is Hemsworth. Hemsworth is an interesting actor and an interesting movie star; outside of the Marvel universe, he doesn’t have any stone cold classics, but he’s given a lot of interesting performances, be it in semi-prestige awards fare (Rush, In the Heart of the Sea), subversive genre pieces (Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale), and even being the best part of a very bad movie (Ghostbusters). It’s become apparent that Hemsworth is more than another chiseled beefcake and has a real sense of comic timing, which makes the steely seriousness of Rake more off putting.
But that changes in a key scene about halfway through. It’s another boringly shot exposition dump, but it reveals some key details about Rake that at least explain the restrained, dismissive nature of the character. It’s in this brief sequence, where Rake is far more vulnerable that he is when he’s jumping off rooftops or ramming cars into people, that shows why the film requires an actor like Hemsworth at the center, and not just another tough guy like a Gerald Butler or a Jason Statham. It’s in this moment that Hemsworth transcends the material, and even if his fatherlike protection over Ovi is fairly simplistic, it’s the essence of thematic depth that the film needs to be more than just a few really cool setpieces hobbled together.
But it’s hard to credit the sincerity of a moment like this when the rest of the film is just begging to be taken seriously. This is an extremely violent movie where kids are pushed off roofs, fingers are cut off, and headshots come at you with the frequency of a Call of Duty game and the realism of something like The Hurt Locker. It’s not that the violence is neccessarily off putting, but for the most part Extraction is a fairly joyless two hours to get through, and the dialogue within the action sequences is rarely anything more than “Come on, kid!” or “We’ve got to keep moving!”
Sometimes I feel like I should grade Netflix movies on a bit of curve; if you’re not really paying for it, perhaps there’s more lenience on what’s acceptable, and I’m confident that many people will have an entertaining enough time watching Hemsworth dash through the streets of Bangladesh mowing down hoards of indistinguishable hitmen. But outside of some exemplary formal elements, there’s nothing that really stands out about Extraction, and I expected a little more from a film in which Tyler Rake kills someone with a rake. Grade: C