At one point in Extraction, Chris Hemsworth presses a dude’s face into an upturned rake. Hemsworth should’ve capitalized on the moment like the most glorious of all character introductions, stating coolly: “Rake. The name’s Tyler… Rake.” Extraction is the kind of B-movie actioner tailor-made for our current stay-at-home viewing impulses, and a particular kind of Marvel-actor brand slowly carving out a genre space in Netflix’s domain. Some of us might crave something with a little more substance, but in the listless routine of our quarantine days, a quick adrenaline fix can go a long way.
Tyler Rake is an elite mercenary hired to extract a highly valuable target from the whims of a druglord. Ovi, the son of a rival druglord, is that unfortunate individual about to be given a violent ride out of Bangladesh. There’s a double cross in the story somewhere and corrupt officials managing the play field, but it’s all in service of frenetic fisticuffs and John Wick-style shootouts. For the most part, Extraction earns solid bang from your Netflix subscription. Besides, who’s gonna pass up an opportunity to stare at Hemsworth’s chiseled features for 2 hours?
Now, why Hemsworth is saddled with the horrendous stock name of Tyler Rake is beyond me. He could just as well have been John OxyContin. Tyler Scotch. Or Chris Extraction. The moniker is no more clever or unique than the kind of page-turner thriller protagonist like Alex Cross, Jack Ryan, or Jack Reacher—which is perhaps the point as Netflix could turn this into a similar long-running series à la Jason Bourne.
Action is the name of the game here. Extraction’s first major sequence, in which the aforementioned rake-kill takes place, is a breathless appetizer for director Sam Hargrave’s visual strengths. The stunt coordinator and performer behind films like Atomic Blonde (he played the doomed MI6 agent Gascoigne), Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Endgame, is next in line following fellow stunt pros Chad Stahelski (John Wick) and David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) now carving out director work in the next stage of their careers.
Hargrave’s direction is particularly inspired, taking cues from Atomic Blonde in which we follow with brutal precision as Tyler and Ovi escape an escalating firefight. We go from car chase shootout to building skirmish then to a knife fight in the streets in what is stylized as one unbroken (and relentless) take. Stacked next to Atomic Blonde’s stairway fight to car chase sequence, you can certainly feel the similarities. Extraction doubles down on the effect by amping up the shakiness and juicing up the testosterone. (Get it? Action, but make it extra 👌) I did 25 push-ups in my living room just because.
On occasion, this means getting a bit too close to the performers. I’m sure some of us won’t mind getting alarmingly close to Hemsworth’s jawline that you could taste the sweat and protein shakes, but for my taste the proximity is too GoPro-y. Sometimes Hargrave takes cues from Alfonso Cuaron, spinning the camera in car like one of Children of Men’s long-take scenes. Other times, Hargrave mimics Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman in how obnoxiously close the camera will graze by an actor. Extraction is exactly what I imagine if Inarritu made a live-action Call of Duty feature. There’s just so much going on around the deliberately closed-off frame that the movie sometimes feels like it’s cheating its own technique.
But for the purposes of staging these fatal and action-packed altercations, it is bottom line immersive as intended. Hargrave strives for The Raid-level intensity amidst frantic foot chases and claustrophobic beatdowns. If you’re gonna pay tribute, you might as well tip your hat to the best.
Spectacle-wise, Extraction is both game and efficient. Story-wise, you’ll probably dissociate mid-exposition— or cue up Call of Duty: Warzone in the meantime. The big bad kingpin Amir might be the least memorable part of this affair. (I literally had to look up the character’s name.) He’s a down-and-dirty man suited for this down-and-dirty plot, in which he enlists help from corrupted generals to child soldiers. The characterization of the region is pretty damning, but fortunately the pseudo world-building doesn’t take up a lot of runtime. Additional legwork on the exposition-front is provided by the scruffy David Harbour, and while his role amounts to little more than a cameo, it’s most likely a billboard for new subscribers to check out Stranger Things. (Netflix: when you’re here, you’re never leaving!)
The most surprising element of Extraction is Randeep Hooda as Saju, chief henchman to Ovi’s druglord father. His job isn’t one of duty, but of obligation to protect a family whom he knows will pay the price should he fail. It’s a compelling thread which gives the story some unexpected heft, whereas the rest of the film’s emotional beats feel forced or unearned. Saju reminded me a lot of Sicario’s Alejandro, with a stare intensity halfway to No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. All deference to Hemsworth, but this easily could’ve been Saju’s movie.
Tyler Rake’s “backstory” is as tried and clichéd as they come, but the character is bolstered by both a very capable lead in Hemsworth and a nice buddy pairing with Ovi. Their wit and levity feel akin to Indiana Jones and Short Round, or rather, like Tony Stark and Harley. Ovi may be the damsel, but he’s got comedic timing to spare in a film that’s mostly an exercise in immersive-style action.
Extraction won’t be winning any awards nor grace any year-end lists. (Although, if they keep delaying movies until 2021…) But it’s reliable entertainment through and through, and any such distractions are welcome during this woefully uncertain time of ‘Rona. If action movies were once the pinnacle of escapism long before superheroes and cinematic universes swooped in, then Extraction is stay-at-home nirvana in an otherwise vanishing new release slate. You could do worse (6 Underground), and you most certainly could do better (The Night Comes For Us). For those who wanna escape the mundanity of our lives for 2 hours, you could just hit play.