Stern faces, grim action in the most-popular Netflix movie ever
A big, brawny, bang-bang excuse to cut loose after all those Marvel movies, Extraction reunites Thor thespian Chris Hemsworth with his Avengers filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo for some down-to-earth, down-to-clown mayhem: blood-soaked, blood-stained, and blood-splattered. Don’t expect any of that Disney-friendly PG-13 crap.
Don’t expect a writers’ room of franchise subplotting and universe-expanding, either. This nasty little bruiser is a self-contained South Asian action spectacle that gamely tries to deepen its paper-thin premise with a stab at moody psychodrama. Expect stern stares, grim-faced militias, and soliloquies of mournful regret, all set to a brooding synth drone.
EXTRACTION ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Sam Hargrave
Written by: Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Geetanjali Thapa, Randeep Hooda, David Harbour
Running time: 117 min
Hemsworth plays liquor-soaked Australian soldier of fortune Tyler Rake, hired to rescue skinny 14-year-old Indian drug-lord scion Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) from the clutches of Bangladeshi drug lord Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli). Asif is “Dhaka’s very own Pablo Escobar,” and kidnapped Ovi to humiliate his imprisoned father Ovi Mahajan Sr (Pankaj Tripathi). It’s a kingpin grudge match.
So Ovi Jr is the Maguffin that everybody wants, Rake is the formidable mercenary with Terminator stamina, and the extraction job naturally goes sideways. Asif orders the corrupt police force to seal off the river-ringed city of Dhaka, so the rest of the movie is Rake keeping Ovi safe while clawing his way to the inevitable battle royale on a debris-littered bridge.
This time the megasuccessful brothers stick to producing, adapting their own 2014 graphic novel Ciudad (written with Ande Parks) and enlisting their stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave to helm all the chaos. And it’s a muscular debut. Extraction isn’t so much a movie as it is an exercise in exuberant choreography: swooping camera movements, barreling trucks, whipsaw semiautomatic bullet sprays, and balletic hand-to-hand combat aplenty. It’s all very kinetic eye candy, beautifully lensed with an array of saturated colors that capture the teeming population with steamy verve.
But exhaustion eventually sets in. The film is essentially a string of overheated set pieces, punctuated by leaden moments of weepy soul-searching. To its credit, Extraction gives a few characters some compromised morals. Double-crosses pop up, but the betrayers don’t mean to be bad people. There aren’t any villains, really, just good people in desperate situations. Oh, except for the actual villains. They’re awful. Especially the sartorially sumptuous Asif, flashing “I’m bored” looks at sycophants who sever their own fingers in tribute and henchmen who literally throw children off rooftops.
As for the action, it’s fine. Hargrave comes up with a few inventive kills, but a lot of what he does will seem very similar and even inferior to other Asian-set action classics like Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak trilogy or the two Raid films. Hargrave seems more concerned with having adversaries pop randomly into frame without too much thought about spacial relationships or temporal logic. Rake is such an incredulous sharp-shooter, too, that these shooting-gallery moments get pretty tedious. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are much more fun, especially when Rake gives a roundhouse kick to a nasty street urchin. The poor victim is just a kid, but don’t think about that too much. Also don’t think about how this tall, blond white man is the true savior of this South Asian saga.
There’s a 12-minute bit about a half hour into the film where Hargrave pulls a Cuaron/Iñárritu and does his version of the one-take super-sequence. All the action happens in a single fluid camera movement, although it’s actually 36 different takes digitally stitched together to look seamless. Very impressive, very unnecessary. Weird for it to come so early in the film, even weirder that the rest of the movie is otherwise shot conventionally. Not too sure what the point of this lookit me filmmaking exercise is, except as a dick-measuring stunt.
Extraction has become Netflix’s most popular original film, so the filmmakers are taking a page from the John Wick handbook and announced pre-production on a follow-up film. Better assemble that franchise writers’ room after all! Especially since they have to explain away that fatal neck shot Rake suffers. Is he now a ghost? Will the new movie be a prequel? No one cares. Just make sure he gives a roundhouse kick to another nasty street urchin.