It’s no accident that beloved superhero alums keep landing roles in the latest batch of streaming content, from Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) in the new HBO film “Bad Education” to Chris Evans (Captain America) in the new Apple TV+ miniseries “Defending Jacob.”
However, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) may have the biggest bragging rights thanks to his new action flick “Extraction,” which just became the most watched Netflix original film with 90 million viewers over four weeks, surpassing the 73 million of “Murder Mystery” (2019).
Unlike the 2015 Bruce Willis flick of the same name, this “Extraction” benefits from a quarantined audience and a built-in “Avengers” fanbase loyal to the Russo Brothers, who produce. On its own merits, “Extraction” is an above-average action flick with kickass stunts, but a story that feels cliche in the wake of “Man on Fire” (2004) and “Taken” (2008).
Based on Ande Parks’ graphic novel “Ciudad,” the film follows Australian mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), who is recruited to rescue Ovi Mahajan Jr. (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the kidnapped son of Indian drug lord Ovi Mahajan Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi). He’s now being held for ransom by brutal kingpin Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli) in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The God of Thunder keeps his golden locks trimmed like “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017), but we miss the charming banter he brought to Fat Thor in “Endgame” (2019). This time, he’s the strong but silent type, believably laying waste to henchmen like Matt Damon or Keanu Reeves, even if the name Tyler Rake isn’t as memorable as Jason Bourne or John Wick.
Screenwriter Joe Russo openly mocks his protagonist’s name. “You don’t look like a Tyler. You look like a Brad,” the kid says, before setting sights on his surname: “That’s a strange last name. Isn’t that like a gardening tool?” You should see him use a hammer, kid.
Dialogue aside, we don’t really get to know Rake as a person. Russo attempts to give reasons for his apathy by flashing to blurry images of a little boy. Are these childhood memories or memories of a family member? The answer is ultimately revealed, but we wish the imagery was explored more like Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” (2000).
Structurally, the script is a tad back heavy, allowing Rake to save the boy too early, leaving the majority devoted to their escape. It would have been better for Rake to spend the first half finding the boy and the second half fleeing. As written, Act Two becomes repetitive. Like the kid says, “You drown not by falling into the river but by staying submerged in it.”
On a sociological level, critics may ding it for “white savior” tropes as Ovi Jr. laments, “I’m just a package to be delivered. A brown package.” Other viewers won’t mind, swept away by the Southeast Asian settings filmed in the Indian cities of Ahmedabad and Mumbai before moving to Thailand in Ban Pong, Ratchaburi, then finally Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The gritty locations and desperate conditions recall the plight of the kids in “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), exploited by a sinister villain tossing kids off a roof. It’s an attempt to get them to snitch while recruiting a legion of child soldiers. Some have no business near a trigger, clicking with misfires, while others deliver fatal shots like “City of God” (2002).
Filmmaker Sam Hargrave (Captain America’s stunt double) is the latest stunt coordinator to make his directorial debut. His best sequence is a 12-minute single-take car chase where the camera tracks beside the getaway vehicle, moves into the back seat to ride along, pushes out the rear window to follow other cars, then moves back inside for a crash.
At times, the impressive unbroken shots will make you gasp, “How did they do that?!?” Most likely, it’s achieved with well-timed CGI “stitches.” However, as their remote navigator Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani) shouts, “Turn back, turn back, turn back,” it feels like a video game narrator instructing the hero to turn around after driving down a dead end.
It all builds to a sacrificial finale that rips off “Man on Fire” with its bridge heroics and “The Bourne Identity” with an underwater plunge, only without the Moby soundtrack. Like Denzel’s “Creasy Bear” protection of Dakota Fanning, we get a similar scene of the kid in a swimming pool, only this time with an ambiguous final shot that leaves it open for more.
This week, Netflix announced tentative plans to bring back Hemsworth, Russo and Hargrave for an upcoming sequel. Their hope is to launch a high-octane franchise that will turn Tyler Rake into a recurring action star for the new millennium. If the sequel can land another 90 million viewers after four weeks, it will have been a shrewd investment.
Still, I’m skeptical of the way Netflix counts its “viewers.” It used to require folks to watch 70 percent of a movie for it to count as an official view. Now, you only have to watch two minutes. That’s about as brief as someone flipping through cable channels and stopping between commercials. The intentional result is that newer films have a huge advantage.
As a result, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be more “records” to break, more victims to extract and more excuses for Tyler Rake to keep raking in the dough.