clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), bleeding from the temple, peers around a shattered segment of wall into a snowy courtyard in Extraction 2 Photo: Jasin Boland/Netflix

Filed under:

Why the Extraction movies rip when so many Chris Hemsworth franchises flop

Extraction and Extraction 2 grab audiences with the same post-snark sincerity as John Wick and Top Gun: Maverick

Other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no other film franchise has found an effective way to use Chris Hemsworth. Granted, he could be a headlining act for worse franchises than the $30 billion juggernaut that has defined the past 15 years of popular culture. But from the bland, insipid grays of the Huntsman movies to the needlessly vitriolic spite the 2016 Ghostbusters roused, Hemsworth has been unable to catch a break for any major film series where he doesn’t play the God of Thunder. Even when he reunited with his MCU co-star Tessa Thompson for 2019’s Men in Black: International, the results were profoundly underwhelming and forgettable. That movie isn’t particularly awful, it’s just deflating. And it doesn’t even feature a Will Smith rap to perk it up. (Wild Wild West: 1, Men in Black: International: 0.)

Then Netflix released Extraction in 2020, with Hemsworth in the lead and director Sam Hargrave at the helm. Netflix says the film was an immediate success, reaching almost 100 million households in its first four weeks — at the time, the widest reach for any Netflix original movie. Certain elements of the film’s violence, visuals, and apparent white savior complex were rightfully criticized, but ultimately, it made a mark with audiences because it was such a break from the previous decade’s overly referential, frustratingly insincere blockbuster output. And it spawned an immediate sequel, Extraction 2, now on Netflix and likely to quickly beat the first film’s viewing record.

The latter half of the 2010s emphasized increasingly self-aware, lighthearted blockbuster films inundated with half-joke quips. The Captain America meme “I understood that reference!” is perhaps the best tonal summation for this period, with 2012’s The Avengers being patient zero, and Men in Black: International perfecting the formula down into an anti-art form. By contrast, both Extraction and 2023’s Extraction 2 position sincerity and spectacle above everything else. Hargrave takes both films seriously, and turns them into admirably efficient, effective blockbusters.

Mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) cradles an unconscious girl in his arms as he walks through a doorway in Extraction 2 Photo: Jasin Boland/Netflix

The Extraction films have simple stories, predominantly focusing on how many bodies mercenary soldier Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) can leave in his wake while extracting individuals from high-danger locales. The heart of both films is the way Rake’s paramilitary work is his way of reconciling with his grief and guilt over his son’s death. Both films centralize the extractions around a young boy Rake is tasked with protecting; the allegory is about as subtle as the action, but it hits audiences hard because it’s presented so earnestly, and because it helps create a heartfelt journey of self-acceptance for Rake.

Neither Extraction film is particularly nuanced in its characterizations — they don’t get much subtler than the metaphor where Tyler Rake puts out a fire on his arm by repeatedly punching someone. But there’s a sincerity to the stories that harkens back to a pre-snark, pre-meta, pre-referentialism era of action films.

It may be hard for young filmgoers raised on the MCU to remember, but there was an era of action where a character named Tyler Rake could kill a man using a rake and let that moment of silliness speak for itself, without having Kumail Nanjiani standing by to comment on it as the trademark Silly Guy. There’s a tonal sweet spot between the edgy angst of Snow White and the Huntsman and Men in Black: International’s quippy snark, and Extraction lives in that spot, where it can be earnest but not joyless or humorless.

The first Extraction in 2020 was part of a new wave of action blockbusters that detoured away from lighthearted banter and presented action with a much straighter face: the juggernaut successes of Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water; the acclaimed climactic bouts of Creed III and John Wick: Chapter 4; the global sensation that was RRR. The value of action-movie sincerity deteriorated throughout the 2010s, in favor of self-deprecating, tension-puncturing wit and banter. But it’s made a resurgence, and the spectacular in-camera action in both Extraction films is part of that wave.

Mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) and his sister-in-law Ketevan (Tinatin Dalakishvili) shelter against a corrugated metal wall as a door in that wall explosively blows open in Extraction 2 Photo: Jasin Boland/Netflix

Where the action scenes of heavily CG-based, fantasy-oriented thrillers like Avengers, Transformers, Jurassic World, and indeed, Men in Black: International are typically streamlined into amorphous blobs of pixels smashing into each other like toys having temper tantrums, the Extraction films deliver action that’s clear and practical, and that feels legitimately ambitious. In particular, both films feature extended sequences designed to appear as continuous shots — the first film’s impressive oner lasted around 10 minutes, while Extraction 2’s one-shot sequence doubles that length, spanning from a prison break to a train chase with virtually no breathing room between them.

The first film also features an excellent fistfight between Hemsworth and David Harbour, as well as a sequence where Hemsworth has to brawl with a group of heavily armed, highly motivated child soldiers. There’s an ironic comedy value in both those scenes, but the script doesn’t overplay it, and Hemsworth’s performance emphasizes his frustration and desire to escape these situations, rather than having him waltz through on one-liners. The sequel ups the action ante across the board.

Crucially, the Extraction films show a love for the craft of filmmaking that elevates them from mindless mayhem into something truly spectacular. These aren’t lazy movies. The sheer dynamism that shreds through them prevents them from feeling disingenuous. And as we’ve seen before, there’s a strong correlation between sincere filmmaking, sincere stories, and sincere audience responses.

Mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) shares a quiet firelit conversation on a battered old couch with his friend Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani) in Extraction 2 Photo: Jasin Boland/Netflix

Sam Hargrave — much like Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, the directorial team behind the original John Wick — began his career as a stunt coordinator, but has since shifted roles, and has become an incredibly impressive action director. He brings a wealth of experience and love for action cinema to his work, and it shines through the pure sincerity of Extraction and its sequel.

The identity that this new wave of stunt artists turned action directors bring to their films is crucial: They’re producing blockbusters that feel genuinely engaged with action, and less like the result of an algorithm or committee. Extraction 2 ratifies that shift — neither of these movies delivers tantalizing insights into the human condition, but they’re both kickass movies grounded in an earnestness that feels fresh and exciting. With any luck, they’ll also herald a new wave of heroes named after gardening tools. The Lawnmower Man deserves its own sincere and serious comeback.

Extraction and Extraction 2 are streaming on Netflix now.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon