Chris Hemsworth’s best roles to date have tapped into his charm. His turn as a handsome but clueless assistant in the Ghostbusters reboot was a revelation, and Thor: Ragnarok wisely replaced the somber aspects of the god of thunder with a puppylike eagerness. Unfortunately, the new Netflix action movie Extraction rates at a zero on the star’s charm scale. The mini-Marvel reunion — director Sam Hargrave was stunt coordinator on several Marvel films, Avengers: Endgame director Joe Russo wrote the script, and he and Anthony Russo are producers — relies on action and violence, drowning Hemsworth’s natural charisma in blood.
In Extraction, Hemsworth plays a mercenary named Tyler Rake. When Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the teenage son of a drug lord (Pankaj Tripathi), is kidnapped, Rake is called into Dhaka, Bangladesh to rescue him. The job, however, is a set-up. Lacking the money to pay Rake, the drug lord’s second-in-command, Saju (Randeep Hooda), plans to kill the mercenary once Ovi is safe and sound. When the kidnappers, rivals of Ovi’s father, redouble their efforts to get the boy back, Rake and Ovi are put between a rock and a hard place with no choice but to fight their way out.
Russo’s script makes overtures at creating emotional investment by giving Rake mysterious flashbacks to a tiny pair of legs, suggesting that his increasing commitment to Ovi is grounded in past family trauma. Ovi also confides in Rake about his misgivings as to his father’s line of work, and Saju becomes something of an antihero as his ruthlessness stems from wanting to shield his family from the boy’s father’s wrath.
Whatever sense of warmth or empathy these threads might engender, however, is erased by how little time is spent on them. Early scenes in which Ovi tries to live a normal existence — ignoring his friends’ urging to tell girls whose son he is to impress them, trying to skirt around Saju’s watchful gaze — are compelling, and offer the kinds of character details that get lost when the shooting begins. And Rake, for his part, has no similar character foundation beyond the fact that we first see him jump off of a waterfall in Australia, and the aforementioned flashbacks.
To Hargrave’s credit, the action in Extraction is gripping. A 12-minute chase sequence stitched together to look like a single take is impossible to look away from, and rather than dissolving into unintelligibly blurry shots, the fights are always clear despite just how much is happening in them. Hemsworth’s size (he’s 6’3” tall) is also constantly evident as he charges through alleyways and takes on an endless stream of foes of more average heights. There’s no Hulk equivalent here, save for a fight between Hemsworth and David Harbour, who crops up as one of Rake’s acquaintances. The match, which takes place inside a house, demonstrates how alarming it would be to have two 6’3” men throw down in your kitchen.
The action moves Extraction along at a fast clip, but there’s so much of it, and the enemies are so faceless, that it starts to feel exhausting. The brief interludes that drive the emotional story forward are too thin and static to feel like more than road bumps, grinding things momentarily to a halt before the bullets start to fly again. It’s a pity given how charismatic Hemsworth has proven himself to be given the right material. Brief asides in which he refers to a gang of child soldiers as “the Goonies from hell” and actually kills a man with a rake are exceptions in terms of revealing even a glimmer of humor, and feel jarring rather than a welcome reprieve. The focus on action also threatens to obscure Jaiswal’s terrific performance as a kid attempting to make heads or tails of being thrust into such horrific violence.
The John Wick movies and Atomic Blonde arguably pull from the same playbook of giving a star a vague mission, then putting a gun in their hand and having them fight their way to the credits. But those relentless action vehicles benefit from a greater sense of style, and stars whose charm, to some degree, depends on stoicism and toughness. Hemsworth’s appeal is different from Keanu Reeves’ — he’s not dour in the same way — and Extraction, while well-shot in terms of action, doesn’t have enough style to skimp so much on character development, and not enough character development to be able to skimp on style. And the one big weapon it has — Hemsworth’s ability to juxtapose his brawn with approachable charm — is one it never pulls from its holster.
Extraction is streaming on Netflix now.
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