There comes a time in every actor's life when he looks at what he wants to achieve with his or her career. Perhaps it's taking home an Oscar for an incredible performance, or winning acclaim for playing one of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. Or maybe it's playing a grizzled hitman/mercenary/government agent forced into a deadly mission from which he might not return. Stars such as Liam Neeson (Taken), Matt Damon (the Bourne movies), and Keanu Reeves (John Wick) have found success in lucrative action franchises about reluctant but deadly loners. Now, Thor star Chris Hemsworth apparently wants in on the act.
In the formulaic new Netflix thriller Extraction, Hemsworth plays Tyler Rake, a veteran mercenary who specialises in extracting kidnap victims. When Ovi, the son of an imprisoned Indian drug cartel boss, is captured by a rival mobster named Amir, Rake is hired to rescue the kid and get him out of Mumbai. The screenplay is by Hemsworth's Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo, adapted from the 2014 graphic novel Ciudad, which he wrote with his brother Anthony and Andre Parks. But while Endgame and Infinity War pushed back the boundaries of comic movie storytelling on screen, there's no such invention going on here.
No cliché is left untouched. Is Tyler a disillusioned man haunted by a tragic past? He sure is! Does he find redemption while trying to protect an innocent child? You bet! Is he double-crossed by would-be allies and forced to team up with former enemies? Hell yeah! Throw in a cartoonishly evil villain and a largely redundant role for the only female character of any note, and you have a movie that has far more in common with '80s hits like Rambo or Delta Force than some of today's more inventive and progressive action movies.
But if the plot and characters are familiar, the action is impressive. Extraction is directed by Sam Hargrave, an experienced stunt coordinator who worked with the Russos on both of their Avengers movies, as well as on Deadpool 2, Suicide Squad, Atomic Blonde, and Thor: Ragnarok. Hargrave opts for a gripping handheld style for much of the action, as Hemsworth fights his way across Mumbai in a series of gunfights, car chases, and brutal close-combat sequences.
The standout scene is a seemingly unbroken 11-minute take as Rake attempts to escape with Ovi. The camera moves through the packed streets and alleys, in and out of speeding cars, into buildings, up stairs, and out of windows, capturing every punch and bullet hit with dizzying flair. The complexity of some shots suggest that there is digital trickery at work here, but it doesn't diminish the thrill of the whole sequence. And while nothing else in the film quite matches it, Hargrave keeps the action varied and attempts to up the emotional stakes as Rake's situation becomes more and more desperate.
The acting is solid throughout, but with so little downtime between action, there's no real opportunity for the cast to take the characters beyond formulaic ciphers. Hemsworth falls back on his natural charisma and physical ability, while Stranger Things star David Harbour pops up for a small role as a former colleague, and Priyanshu Painyuli chews the scenery as the ruthless Amir. The best performance comes from young Rudhraksh Jaiswal, who evokes real sympathy as Ovi. There are some good lines ("we just got attacked by the Goonies from hell!" Rake exclaims after fighting off a vicious gang of street kids), but for the most part the dialogue consists of grunting and shouting.
With its comfortable formula and lavish action sequences, Extraction is another high-profile but ultimately average Netflix movie, notable more for the big-name stars than its overall quality (see also the recent 6 Underground and Spencer Confidential). But with zero competition in theaters from better movies, it should satisfy those looking for glossy thrills. It might not be in the same league as the best John Wick or Jason Bourne movies, but right now it's as close as we're going to get to a brand-new action blockbuster.