A decent performance from Chris Hemsworth following his success as the God of Thunder, but he may have been hoping for something just a little more worthy than this run-of-the-mill action B-movie.
Spoilers ahead for Extraction…
In many ways, Chris Hemsworth was born to play Thor. Tall, handsome, solid beard; aside from some questionably dyed eyebrows in his first outing he exuded the brawn and knuckle-headed charm that made the character a cornerstone of the ten-year, twenty-two-movie pop culture phenomenon. With a couple of years before his next outing in the MCU, Hemsworth must have been relishing the chance to stretch his acting muscles (I mean, he does have all the muscles) in a gritty action flick where unlike many of the recent Marvel entries, he truly is the star of the movie.
And to be fair to him, it’s a good performance, as Tyler Rake, a black market mercenary whose mission to rescue a Bangladeshi drug lord’s son drags him into a viscous turf war, laying bare his own not too distant traumas. Beyond that… Well the problem is there isn’t much beyond that.
Byte-size plot summary (SPOILERS)
The film starts with Hemsworth’s Tyler, injured and under fire in a civilian warzone, as he flashes back to a small child playing on the beach. We cut back two days ago, showing the ordinary life of teenager Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), hanging out with friends and going to school, only his handler Saju (Randeep Hooda) hinting of the boy’s father and something not quite right with this ideal existence. That night, Ovi is abducted by his father’s nemesis, another drug lord named Arjun (Piyush Khati). Saju is ordered to return Ovi, and so enlists the assistance of Tyler and co, only to double cross them once Tyler has successfully extracted Ovi from his captors, as he doesn’t have the funds to pay them. Tyler takes Ovi on the run, incapacitating Saju and holding onto the boy in hopes that he may yet cash him in for a reward. In between tense action, Tyler and Ovi bond, with the boy reminding Tyler of his own son, who we learn died of lymphoma a few years before.
After blasting his way out of every fight, including one with children soldiers enlisted by Arjun, Tyler finds sanctuary with an old mercenary buddy, Gaspar (David Harbor). It quickly turns south, when Gaspar reveals he made a deal to execute the boy for 10 million dollars. Tyler (already injured) begrudgingly attempts to fights Gaspar but is overpowered and almost killed, only for Ovi to shoot Gaspar as he tries to talk Ovi into putting the gun down.
Tyler makes the decision to return Ovi to Saju, and meets him, agreeing to hand the boy over and create a diversion until Saju can get Ovi to safety. The final battle results in Saju’s death, whilst Ovi escapes with some of Tyler’s former mercenary team, and Tyler, who sustains heavy injury, falls into the river, flashing back to his dead son. The last shots cut between Ovi in a swimming pool and Tyler’s mercenary mate Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) who assinates Arjun. As Ovi emerges from the water, he sees a blurred figure (likely Tyler) standing over in the distance.
A little less conversation, a little more action please
The bones of Extraction are of a pretty standard one-man army kind of deal. The relatively thin plot acts as reasonable enough foil to allow Hemsworth to dispatch any number of baddies in a series of well-choreographed and quite brutal fight scenes. First-time director Sam Hargrave’s career as a stunt coordinator has served him well. There is no denying that the fights look good, with the hand-to-hand gory and real style taking a leaf out of John Wick’s book, as the impact of each blow, broken bone and bullet is really felt by the audience. As an action set piece the film shines, but outside of the intense, fast-paced action, there is very little of substance going on, and the attempts at emotional development often come across as forced and unearned, despite there being a lot of them.
Hemsworth does his best to add some dramatic quality to the production. For such a physical presence, it can’t be overstated how good the Australian actor is at showing complex emotions, particularly a mental fragility which throughout the film contrasts well with his combat prowess. It’s something he already displayed well in Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War, and long may he continue to bring a little bit of nuance to what is otherwise the typical meathead action hero.
But no matter how well he delivers his lines, the convoluted plot and stop/start pacing prevent any real investment in these characters. The film only really works if the connection between Ovi and Tyler feels genuine, and try as I might there isn’t enough disbelief to suspend. Yes, the theme of children and family is made clear; Tyler has a blind spot for children, he avoids killing any of the young men that attack him throughout the film and in the moments where he talks about it, it is clear the death of his son still haunts him.
These moments aren’t fleshed out enough however, and on what we see, it’s difficult to believe this toughened mercenary is risking his life and the lives of his friends for a drug lord’s kid he met under 48 hours before. They speak maybe three times up until the point Tyler tries to stop his long-term friend from killing Ovi, and at the time I couldn’t help but think something Gaspar said a second later; “You’re a mercenary right Tyler? Why don’t you act the mercenary?” Obviously this is the protagonist played by Chris Hemsworth, and no kids are going to be killed, but in the dark, crime-ridden world we’ve seen so far, Gaspar is the one making sense.
This is not the first sign of a directorial debut. Outside of the action, many conversations are dragged out and don’t really serve a purpose, with little levity and maybe not quite enough fighting to get away with it. There is more than a whiff of 80’s action hero in the movie’s construction, but its 2020 execution (i.e, making it 10 shades darker and rubbing mud on it) takes away the charm and cheesiness that your Lethal Weapon or Commando oozed. This could have been a straight two-hour bloody joyride, like a reverse Taken, but every time it builds up momentum, it runs straight into a brick wall of strained dialogue or unnecessary side plot.
No Hemsworth, No Movie
When we aren’t with Tyler and Ovi, a number of side characters are visited with little to no impact on the overall story. Arjun is the typical moustache-twirling baddie whose only real involvement is ordering disposable minions, corrupted officials and street kids to try and capture Ovi. In all honesty, he may as well have been a faceless villain; his involvement is completely unnecessary and every scene he appears in slows the film down. He never meets Tyler or Ovi, and is killed as an afterthought by Tyler’s mercenary contact Nik, who herself does little apart from answer phone calls in a concerned manner. It’s all a bit confusing really: yes, this is Hemsworth’s film, but by including mini story arcs that fizzle out or never add anything to begin with, you have to wonder if they are meant to serve a point other than getting the film to the two-hour mark.
Credit where it is due: the production team did a decent job in the appropriate casting, as ten years ago this was exactly the kind of film at serious risk of casting non-Asian actors, resulting in bad accents and general lack of awareness. As it is, the blend of English and Hindi/Bangladeshi dialogue is a welcome cultural change, though at times the transitions occurred so frequently that it didn’t help with the overall engagement. As a western viewer, it hurts the overall pace of the film that whenever we cut away from the main plot, it is usually to under-developed side characters played by unknown actors speaking in a language I couldn’t understand. Not bad scenes in themselves, but lending to the disjointed nature of the overall story.
The feel of the locations though was nailed, and the crowded, noisy city streets that the characters find themselves in do give an authentic vibe. Visually the film looks great, but it would perhaps have been interesting to spend more time contrasting the densely built up city of Dhaka with the stunning natural beauty we briefly see at the beginning of the film. As you can probably tell from our screenshots, staying in the hot dusty city results in more or less the entire film adopting a yellow-ish hue that just becomes the norm after a while. Still, it is nice to see western films take place outside of the typical US/Europe locations. If I were cynical, I may suggest that is to target the ever growing Asian markets, but in any case diversity is rarely a bad thing.
Extraction is a simple second-tier action film for 2020, complete with the bloody, fast-paced action scenes that films like Taken and John Wick have made the norm over the past decade, but with not quite enough action to propel it into the same league. Whilst Hemsworth’s name will attract many watchers to the Netflix exclusive, the less than stellar script and pacing means it will likely fade out of memory as just another “ok” hero redemption story. Perhaps if the direction had gone almost all action like Wick, or fleshed out the relationships and backstories a little better, the result would have been more focused and engaging. As it is, Extraction makes for an acceptable two-hour Netflix pastime, but Hemsworth will undoubtedly want to keep looking for his next big hit.