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Chris Hemsworth fits the role of Marvel’s Thor like a well-oiled glove. He’s charming, he’s funny and, most importantly, check out those abs. Still, the commitment a Marvel contract requires often leaves many of their major stars unable to commit to passion projects. Hemsworth’s been looking for a solid action thriller for a while now. His efforts with Red Dawn and Blackhat yielded poor results at the box office. The gung-ho war film 12 Strong fared better but none of them felt like Hemsworth was giving everything. With the Russo Brothers produced Extraction, Chris Hemsworth has finally found the action thriller that defines him outside the MCU.
Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) is a beer-swilling, pill-popping mercenary with six pack abs and depression. After Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) the son of India’s biggest drug lord is kidnapped by Bangladesh’s biggest drug lord Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli) Tyler is called in by his handler Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) to rescue the boy. After the rescue in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka goes awry Tyler commits to getting Ovi out of the city on his own.
First things first: Extraction has its main character Tyler Rake kill a man with a rake in its first 20 minutes. Everything after that is all gravy. The rescue scene takes place after an opening that has characters snap multiple versions of “Cut the shit” at each other. Eventually the shit has been so well cut there’s nothing standing in the way of Extraction’s 35 minute rescue sequence. Rake barrels his way through an army of criminal goons, corrupt police and the gang enforcer that originally hired him, Saju (Randeep Hooda). It is sub-standard John Wick action but that’s still a whole lot better than the 10 years where the Bourne franchise’s shaky cam and Taken 2’s hyperkinetic editing left western action cinema in bloody ribbons.
Extraction is directed by Sam Hargraves, the stunt coordinator on some of the MCU’s best fight scenes, and the stunts hit with the force of freight trains now that Hargraves is mostly liberated from green screens and men in motion capture suits. Bodies crash through walls, windows and over railings with real, living energy. Bullets kick up dust and cause blood to gout up into the air. Explosions rip entire streets and buildings apart. Even when things slow down and Rake spills his guts to Ovi it never feels maudlin or cheap but workmanlike. It’s Rake’s version of John Wick’s wife or Brian Mills’ daughter. It’s a cog in the action machine. Without the slowed down pace, you never appreciate the action sequences that break the sound barrier.
Still, it’s hard to shake the white saviour narrative Extraction comes burdened with. It especially struggles when it’s clear that Hooda’s Saju could have rescued Ovi just as easily on his own. But it’s also understandable, at least in moneymaking terms. Netflix wants the Hollywood and Bollywood audience. An Indian audience is more likely to watch Chris Hemsworth rescue a teenager from corrupt police but I don’t think the majority of white western audiences would be as willing to watch Randeep Hooda rescue that same teenager. The same movie could have easily been made the exact same way without Hemsworth – who also produces – but it wouldn’t have received nearly the same fanfare in the western hemisphere. With that said, Extraction gives Saju almost as much ass kicking time as Rake so the balance is about 60:40 at least.
Netflix is beginning to place its foot on the action blockbuster stage. Although the stories of its two big features in the genre so far – Extraction and Michael Bay’s 6 Underground – aren’t up to much, the action sequences almost make up for it. Extraction is no John Wick but it’s no Taken 2 either. More than all of that though, it’s a Chris Hemsworth character worth believing in and, I dare say, worth seeing again…