“No matter how badass you think you are, there’s always a badass who’s bigger than you.”
Like most of the words spoken in Extraction, this bit of dialogue is meant to be hard-boiled but also profound — a passing of knowledge from an old warrior to a burgeoning one. But if you decide to check out this ultraviolent Chris Hemsworth thriller, which starts streaming on Netflix tomorrow, you won’t be tuning in to savor the stuff that people say to one another. Really, the words just get in the way. When Extraction is leaning hard on its shoot-’em-up, B-movie explosiveness, you’ll have a fine time relishing the dopey overkill. When people start talking, though, abandon ship.
The movie follows a familiar template, one we’ve seen in everything from The Professional to Man on Fire to Logan: A solitary enforcer must protect a child. Hemsworth plays Tyler Rake — astutely, another character notes that he has a dumb last name — who is a black-market mercenary. Sure, he is super-awesome at killing but, lo, he has a Tragic Past, one that triggers the prerequisite suite of brief, vague flashbacks that hint at the unspecified trauma he’s carrying around with him. (Big Clue: We constantly see gauzy, out-of-focus shots of a cherubic boy.)
But Tyler must put that aside for his next mission, which requires him traveling to Dhaka to rescue a kid named Ovi (Rudraksh Jaiswal), the son of a gangster, who has been captured by that gangster’s chief rival, Amir (Priyanshu Painyuli). It’s a tricky assignment, his liaison Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) warns him, but Tyler doesn’t even bat an eye. “I need the money,” he replies, palpable sexual tension throbbing between them. “Chickens aren’t cheap.” I could provide the necessary context for why that joke even makes sense — it’s established earlier in the scene that he keeps live chickens in his ramshackle Australian lair — but, really, does it matter?
Like a lot of Netflix action vehicles — Triple Frontier, Spenser Confidential — Extraction is a formulaic affair bolstered by the presence of a big star. The movie is called Extraction because, well, it’s about how Tyler tries to pull off this dangerous extraction. (If Netflix wanted to be more helpful to the film’s target audience, they could have simply called the thing Chris Hemsworth Kills So Many People.) Extraction allows Thor to show off his gun-toting, high-body-count side, and he locks into the story’s chiseled, macho-mournful tone with flair. It’s fun to see him in this mode.
Even before you start Extraction, you can guess where it’ll go. After a daring one-man rescue of Ovi, Tyler escorts the lad to the rendezvous spot — except, tarnation, there’s a double-cross, and then they have to go on the run, evading a few different well-armed foes. Will they bond? Of course. Will they discover that, despite coming from very different backgrounds, they have much in common? Boy, howdy, you know it!
When the film slows down to let people interact as human beings — talking about themselves or articulating relatable sentiments like compassion or sorrow — the actors adopt the cool, weary tone of a samurai picture, or one of those showy Michael Mann mano-a-mano dialogue scenes. My heart went out to Extraction in these misbegotten moments: It’s almost as if all involved weren’t aware of why we’re watching in the first place.
This is the feature directorial debut of Sam Hargrave, a stuntman who has worked with the Russo brothers, the team behind the last several Marvel movies. (Anthony and Joe Russo produced Extraction, and Joe wrote the screenplay based off a graphic novel he co-wrote about a decade ago.) Not surprisingly, the film has a slick, polished look — celebrated cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel drapes the proceedings in shadows and moody lighting — and the action sequences are pretty dynamite.
Of course, they’re also flagrantly ridiculous — in one extended set piece, not one but two different characters get hit by cars (and survive) — as Tyler and the goons he’s battling fly around like pinballs. Similar to John Wick, whose directors also had a stuntman background, Extraction is an orgy of intimate kill shots, gruesome stabbings and feverish hand-to-hand combat. The carnage is ludicrously unrealistic, and I loved just about every minute of it.
It’s a shame, then, that Extraction chickens out later and offers mealy-mouthed monologues about the spiritual toll of killing. Nasty little movies like this are better when they have no principles or scruples. Let the blood flow and the corpses pile up while Tyler conducts a solitary war across Dhaka, fighting to keep him and the kid alive in the vain hope that reinforcements might arrive. If I cared about moral debates, I’d watch a real movie — I flipped on Extraction because I want that sugar-rush stupidity of excellently bonkers action sequences.
I’ve noted before how much I like Hemsworth, even when I don’t like his movies — and although Extraction is better than duds such as 12 Strong, it’s a film that plugs his charismatic, towering presence into a clichéd scenario and then doesn’t give him much to do. He’s able to make Tyler’s teary remembrance of his Tragic Past somewhat touching, but this is approximately the 15,000th time you’ve seen this exact same sad backstory for a steely-soldier character.
Hemsworth is so light on his feet as the cheeky Thor that it’s always a bit disappointing when he plays a role like this straight. In Blackhat, Mann’s incredible sense of style and tone elevated what was a pretty silly plot — not to mention a trying-too-hard Hemsworth. He’s more relaxed in Extraction, confident that he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, and after the MCU’s PG-13 violence, you sense the actor’s demented thrill at just straight-up wasting dudes left and right. These aren’t the films that will make his reputation, and he knows that, so he decides to unwind and kill at will.
Eventually, Hargrave tries for a little gravitas and grandeur — fear not, that Tragic Past will emerge in the most hackneyed, manipulative way possible near the end — and ladles out the slow-motion and portentous music cues. Because, you see, this isn’t just a story about an extraction: It’s about atoning for the mistakes that you can’t ever undo. All very contrived and overheated, of course, but I almost admired how much Hargrave and Hemsworth committed to the nonsense they were serving up with such sincerity.
I also felt for Hemsworth, though. The Avengers stars have become so associated with their superhero roles that it can be challenging for them to step away from those characters. (Chris Evans’ own Netflix excursion, last year’s dreadful drama The Red Sea Diving Resort is a great case in point.) Watching Hemsworth save a kid while obliterating bad guys at close range has its pleasures — but it also has considerable limitations.
Plus, soon enough, a stupider, even more bombastic action movie will make Extraction seem inconsequential. Because truly, no matter how badass you think you are, there’s always a badass who’s bigger than you.