Review: Extraction Puts on a Familiar Show of Excessive, Hard-Body Power

Chris Hemsworth’s hyperbolically skilled soldier is borne of childish fantasies about the order of the world.

Photo: Netflix

The sweaty, bloody, hyper-brutal Extraction represents a hard-R turnabout for its producers, Joe and Anthony Russo, who in recent years have been associated with the much softer violence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But despite Joe Russo’s atypically lean, quip-free screenplay and the decidedly un-Disney-like bloodbath that almost every scene devolves into, this foray into the crowded “lone man with a particular set of skills” action subgenre isn’t as distant from the MCU as one might assume. For one, the Russo brothers stage a partial MCU reunion, as the film sees Avengers Endgame stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave directing Chris Hemsworth, the once and future Thor, in the lead role as the requisite haunted mercenary who plows through hordes of anonymous foreign henchmen.

Hemsworth’s quasi-militarized superhuman is a special ops soldier named Tyler Rake—the kind of unlikely, plosive-laden name that sounds like it belongs in a subtitle to an airport novel (say, Extraction: A Tyler Rake Story). With its punchily named, broadly capable, and equally broadly characterized hero, Extraction could represent the start of a John Wick-style, stunt-centric series for Hemsworth, who hasn’t established himself as an action star outside of his half-dozen MCU appearances. Setting aside the affable cluelessness that so effectively defused the aura of hoary ur-masculinity that comes with playing a stacked Norse god, Hemsworth proves he can grimace while double-tapping assault rifles with the best of them.

Forfeiting irony, which in the Russos’ MCU projects served as a kind of shorthand for characterization, Extraction’s script makes Rake a nondescript repository of the most familiar genre tropes, and with quite a bit of help from Hemsworth’s charisma-dampened performance. Discharged after three tours in Afghanistan, Rake has fallen into moral apathy after the death of his son (Byron and Ruder Lerum)—an event alluded to by hazy flashbacks interspersed throughout the film and spelled out in a succinct second-act exposition dump. That—and his superlative skills in what seems like every conceivable form of violence—neatly sums up Rake as far as this film takes us, and serves to explain why the violent nihilist turns so gung-ho about saving Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the teenage son of a Mumbai drug lord.

Ovi has been kidnapped by a rival drug lord, Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), and transported to Dhaka. Rake and a cell of his private security operation, headed by Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani), are called in to return the boy to Mumbai. When that mission inevitably goes wrong and Rake’s mercenary squad is instructed to abandon it, Rake insists on escaping Dhaka with Ovi, sneaking and (mostly) blasting his way through a corrupt city whose police and street gangs are all controlled by Asif. Extraction emphasizes hard-hitting violence over further development of the plot: There are obligatory lulls in the action, but the film’s barebones setup mostly suffices to repeatedly get Rake into tight corners with multiple baddies.

While Extraction lacks some of the flow and gory grace of the John Wick series, its choreography provides some basic thrills. Like the stunt coordinators who moved into directing for the John Wick films, Hargrave knows to preserve the bodily integrity of his actors and stunt performers, rather than cutting every movement into bits. Demonstrative in this regard is the 12-minute, digitally composited “oner” that comes about half an hour in, which begins and ends with explosive car chases, and whose centerpiece consists of Rake weathering a gauntlet of violence in a low-income apartment complex, à la The Raid.

Another element that sets Extraction apart from the John Wick films is that the pleasures of its violent spectacles are infused with colonialist presumptions. Rather than a fantastical version of New York City that hides a secret society of international assassins, the story takes place in a world assembled from the blandest assumptions about poverty, corruption, and moral weakness in the global South, which are contrasted with the superlative abilities and inner goodness of the white male super-soldier. A hulking white man repeatedly disassembling hordes of comparatively diminutive brown-skinned people amid crumbling slums makes for an undeniably reactionary series of images, which the film mostly fails to mitigate by giving a nonwhite woman, Farahani’s Khan, a tokenistic bit of action in the homestretch.

Particularly given its MCU pedigree, Extraction arguably helps dispel the illusion that there’s much daylight at all between the resurgent group of R-rated action flicks and the superhero movies their weightier action ostensibly offers an alternative to. While the preference, in films like Extraction, for knife fights, hand-to-hand combat, and fetishistic gun play owes far more to East-Asian action cinema than it does to comic books, both superhero movies and bloody actioners like this one offer similar fantasies of excessive, hard-body power. The hyperbolically skilled soldier who brutalizes dozens of ragtag gangsters in a rundown apartment building essentially performs the same feats as the superhero dispatching hundreds of CG creatures in a crumbling city—and is borne no less of childish fantasies about the order of the world.

 Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Golshifteh Farahani, David Harbour, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda, Priyanshu Painyuli, Pankaj Tripathi, Chris Jai Alex  Director: Sam Hargrave  Screenwriter: Joe Russo  Distributor: Netflix  Running Time: 116 min  Rating: R  Year: 2020

Pat Brown

Pat Brown teaches Film Studies and American Studies in Germany. His writing on film and media has appeared in various scholarly journals and critical anthologies.

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