Chris Hemsworth is not messing around.
Tossing aside Thor’s massive hammer and trimming his gnarly Avengers: Endgame beard, Chris Hemsworth picks up an assault rifle and gets to work in Extraction, a new Netflix shoot-em-up that re-teams the Australian actor with his former Marvel filmmaking buddies Joe and Anthony Russo. While Hemsworth’s gun-toting commando protagonist Tyler Rake — yes, that’s his name — lacks comic-book superpowers and Norse god strength, he can take a beating and keep fighting. At one point in the film’s big show-stopping chase sequence, Rake gets slammed by a speeding car. His solution? Locate a bigger vehicle, preferably a large truck, and hit the bad guy back.
That type of strategic thinking should give you a sense of Rake’s tactical prowess and of the movie’s blunt-force approach to action filmmaking. Based on Ciudad, a Paraguay-set graphic novel co-written by the Russo Brothers and published in 2014, Extraction, which features a script credited to Joe Russo, moves the narrative to Bangladesh but retains the Man on Fire-like premise, allowing stunt-coordinator-turned director Sam Hargrave to stage a series of bloody combat sequences. There’s been a kidnapping and only one man can recover the victim. It’s our friend Tyler Rake, a man who can kill attackers with a gun, a can, or, yes, even a rake if the circumstances call for it.
After a brief opening scene, which shows a beaten and bloodied Rake dragging his body across the pavement of a besieged bridge, Hargrave flashes back to calmer, gentler times. Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) is the typical child of a crime lord: He attends a posh private school, struggles to pass the time in a largely empty home, and sneaks out to a nightclub with friends, where he gets snatched by a man pretending to be a police officer. Ovi’s dad wants his boy back and he’s informed that there’s “a man who does things like this,” and soon Hemsworth is sipping whiskey, swallowing pain pills, and mumbling about how the backstories of his assignments are “always fucking complicated.” Instead of investing these opening moments with visual wit or warmth, the filmmakers apply the minimal amount of expository detail, hinting to the savvy viewer that this is all set-up and that the real excitement will arrive soon.
The carnage and mayhem that follows is certainly more pulse-pounding. Rake finds his way into the compound where Ovi is being held hostage, frees him by shooting what felt like 20 armed men, and attempts to take the boy to his extraction point. Something goes wrong — the other members of Rake’s team are taken out and the mission has been compromised. That means the frightened child and the weathered mercenary, who of course harbors a tragic backstory about his own son, must form an awkward team as they attempt to blast their way out of a hellish situation, repairing emotional wounds while inflicting increasingly grisly physical injuries on their enemies.
Taking a page from Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian thriller Children of Men and recent fight movies like 2017’s Atomic Blonde, Hargrave shoots a long section of the film in “one take,” attempting to wow viewers with an ingrained contempt for cutting and other basic aspects of film grammar. Is it worth all the apparent effort? In the best moments, you can see Hemsworth and the stunt performers do their brutal hand-to-hand choreography in close quarters, but the camera is often so close to them that it’s hard to get a clean look at the action. Impressive only on a technical level, the sequence drifts towards the uncanny valley of video game-dom, particularly in a lengthy car chase section involving a squad of police cars, aiming for gripping immediacy and missing the mark. It’s enough to make you yearn for the studied incoherence of Michael Bay’s recent Netflix opus, 6 Underground.
Unapologetically grim and excessively violent, Extraction is the type of movie that doesn’t quite earn its cynicism. Part of the blame might lie with Hemsworth, who often struggles to nail the combination of weariness and vulnerability that’s required to play a role like this. In a movie like Proof of Life, you believe that Russell Crowe is an exhausted professional, a guy who has seen it all and can’t be shocked by anything. That allows him to keep a cool head in intense scenarios. (Obviously, Denzel Washington brings even more nuanced gravitas to the even heavier Man on Fire.) As Thor: Ragnarok and other small comedic roles have shown, Hemsworth might just be better at playing characters that share his natural droll charm and smirking sense of mischief. In Extraction, he often looks like he’s the one who wants to be rescued.
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