The first line of dialogue Chris Hemsworth has in Extraction is literally “hold my beer.” He says it because, tired of brooding behind sunglasses, he’s about to jump off a breathtaking cliffside into a rock quarry’s reservoir—so he can brood some more beneath the surface. He also says it because it’s exactly that kind of movie. For better and definitely worse.
Clearly hoping to present itself as something akin to the Sicario movies and other cynical realpolitik action-thrillers, Netflix and director Sam Hargrave’s Extraction actually functions more like the type of Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris action movies that used to dominate multiplexes in the ‘80s and ‘90s: He-Man archetypes in place of backstories and clichés trying to pass for plot points. And Extraction is nothing if not deafeningly cliché, which is a shame given how occasionally visceral Hargrave’s action choreography and set-pieces are in the movie’s best moments.
The story revolves around a mercenary with a heart of gold and dead son—that would be Hemsworth’s Tyler Rake when he isn’t encroaching on Aquaman’s territory beneath the waves—and the young boy he agrees to save for a price. That child is Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the fairly innocent and sweet faced son of an Indian gangster who’s been kidnapped by a rival mobster in another town. Ovi’s failure of a bodyguard (Randeep Hooda) hires Rake to get the kid back, even though he doesn’t have the money to pay for the mercenary’s violent services. Inside of 20 minutes, Extraction thus becomes about Tyler protecting Ovi by getting from point A to point B, and through the legion of warm bodies he needs to turn cold while doing so.
Extraction is crippled by its overreliance on narrative shorthand, beginning with Tyler and Ovi’s archetypes and stretching to include flashbacks of the tortured super soldier’s idyllic past (with a dead son instead of wife), an inevitable double cross or two, and even a squirrely old Army buddy (David Harbour having a ball) whom Tyler runs into along the way. It’s two hours of action movie bingo that viewers will constantly stay ahead of until the very final shot. It also has a handful of spectacular action sequences.
The one you’re sure to hear about repeatedly over the next few weeks is a stunning 11-minute sequence that creates the illusion of a “one-take” shot. Now a familiar visual trick, especially after Sam Mendes’ 1917, Extraction takes it to a breakneck extreme by deceptively cutting together an uninterrupted sequence that includes multiple car collisions, adrenaline-pumping foot chases through a Dhaka tenement building, shootouts, fist fights, and even a helicopter. Hemsworth and his opponents must even extend their physical agony as body blows and knife thrusts are politely paused as bicycle commuters and real world foot traffic continually intervene. It’s the type of clever, R-rated action gusto that would spawn watercooler conversation at the office, assuming you could still work in an office.
Flashes of such genuine excitement punctuate the otherwise banal quality of the movie. In the best moments like this or a third act showdown on a traffic jammed bridge, Extraction scratches an itch for the type of action rarely seen in movie theaters anymore, ironically replaced by the type of movies Hargrave made his name on as a stunt double and then stunt coordinator, including Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. Indeed, all three of those pictures were directed by the Russo Brothers, who alongside Hemsworth produced Extraction. Joe Russo even wrote the screenplay for the Netflix original, which is in turn based on the graphic novel Ciudad.
I have not read Ciudad and cannot comment on if many of Extraction’s most fatal flaws existed on the page, but on the screen Russo’s script is deadlier than any of the film’s countless headshots. Riddled with more clichés than bullets, probably the most menacing of Extraction’s problems is how in an attempt to appear hard-nosed about crime and corruption in India, the movie unintentionally creates a tone deaf white savior narrative in which a Herculean demigod (or at least a Norse one) will save the lone innocent lad in a rotten city by blasting the rest of the third world back to hell. There are some mild attempts to avoid this critique by providing Tyler with a right hand woman played by Golshifteh Farahani, whom he occasionally communicates with by phone. But since she, like everyone else who isn’t played by Hemsworth, cannot escape her character’s one-dimensionality, the tokenism falls flat.
Despite Hemsworth’s winning charisma and impressive attempt to carry the thin story on his oh, so broad shoulders, Extraction is a doomed mission. But like Tyler Rake, he gives his seemingly last full measure after handing his beer to his mate. While the resulting journey isn’t one I would recommend in a world where you had the option to go outside and do just about anything else, in a time of self-isolation and quarantine, there are worse ways to spend two hours… so long as you’re holding a beer of your own.