Almost exactly a year removed from the release of their cultural earthquake Avengers: Endgame (and fresh off the successful Netflix upload of cult sitcom Community where they first emerged), Anthony and Joe Russo return with Extraction, a one-man actioner that serves as Netflix’s latest big-budget spectacle. Whilst still based on a comic series – Ande Parks’s Ciudad – and starring a familiar face – the God of Thunder himself, Chris Hemsworth – this world is a universe away from superhero ensemble pieces: expensive but troubled mercenary Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) travels to Bangladesh to rescue Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the son of an imprisoned Mumbai druglord, from the clutches of his father’s Dakar-based rival, Amir Asif. What follows is a bloody chase across the city to the titular extraction, with a heavily-armed trail of henchmen, child soldiers and corrupt police seeking to stop the duo.
An obvious inspiration is John Wick 3, but whilst the pace never quite matches that of Keanu Reeves’s career renaissance rollercoaster there is a similarity behind the camera, with both films handing the practicalduties to a stunt performer. Joe Russo may have written the screenplay, but as producers the brothers Russo relinquish the directorial reigns to Sam Hargrave, stunt co-ordinator for all four of the siblings’ Marvel Studios outings and whose set-piece know-how is obvious. Though Hargrave does use a rubbery-CGI video-game stunt to introduce Tyler as “unpredictable”, he soon settles into creating much more impressive white-knuckle displays that make good use of the Bangladeshi backdrop. This environment offers stages with unique props and obstacles which appear out of nowhere, especially in an early single-take sequence (or “oner”, as IndieWire marvelously put it in their examination of the scene) that sets the bar immediately high.
There are many questions that Hemsworth’s performance as the tormented Tyler asks of himself and his psyche, but the film itself has just one burning through its heart: How do you make a dangerous stunt look even more perilous? The answer, it finds quite quickly, is to add a minor – whether ducking bullets in an alley or hurling across rooftops, Extraction places young Jaiswal at the heart of the action. Special praise within many of these showdowns should go to Randeep Hooda, who matches blows with his Hollywood counterpart as enforcer Saju, hell-bent on saving the son of his ruthless commander.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of last year’s comic book main event was the sincerity with which Hemsworth was able to convey Thor’s soul-searching. It’s a trait used to great effect again here in this unlikely double-act; tortured by emotional flashbacks, Tyler craves the distraction of this borderline-suicide mission, and slowly reveals his tragic past to his innocent young companion. Ovi himself bears psychological scars of his own, seeing honour and heroism in his liberator simply because his brand of killing is so different to his father’s. Tyler’s reluctance to accept the youngster’s praise highlight the problems that arise when witnesses both on-screen and off come to cheer for a “good guy” who kills so freely.
Of course, flaws don’t just exist psychologically in this film. The tropical climes of South East Asia are rarely explored in Western films, and whilst the region’s overbearing heat may be well-presented much of the vibrant colour is unfortunately sacrificed to a saturated sepia filter. The body count begins in the opening scene, its apparent excesses of violence turning off some viewers, and all involved seemed to be permanently coated in a sticky mix of sweat and blood that may in fact be more off-putting to watch than the actual killing. Regrettably, there are also aspects of the “white saviour” story trope in Hemsworth’s quest, issues furthered by his second act salvation David Harbour (Stranger Things), whose insertion into the picture also threatens to completely derail its breakneck pace.
There are efforts to offsets these problems, however. The ridiculous nature of the action is grounded by the very real injuries that the heroes endure, with the ever-present threat that the next bullet could be the last adding high tension to proceedings. The main players all operate on a similar level of ability, offering a high level of danger to one another’s lives. There’s also a great deal of diversity and inclusivity in the casting outside of the headline stars – especially with Tyler’s “tech team”, which could easily have been filled by a Caucasian line-up. They’re led by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, Exodus: Gods and Kings), whose Nik Khan proves more than capable of holding her own in whatever set of circumstances she is placed.
Inevitably, Extraction is far removed from the accomplishments of the franchises that so clearly inspired it. Yet, there are still flashes of the Russos’ trademark intelligence to be found throughout, and it’s enough of a sheer experience to make its 118 minutes fly by. This is a blockbuster in the vein of cinematic mid-summers past, and whilst it may just be a statement of intent by Netflix as film-making juggernauts, for the most part it shows itself a blindly entertaining one.
Extraction is available to stream now on Netflix. Have you seen it? If so, what are your thoughts on the movie? Let us know in the comments section below, on our Twitter and Instagram accounts, and make sure to download the Kernel App to track all of your favourite upcoming movies!