Extraction is the kind of movie that knows exactly what it is and consequently doesn’t seem intent in wasting time on areas that it recognizes are not its strengths. Featuring Thor star Chris Hemsworth, the film has been heavily marketed as being produced by the Russo Brothers, the director-duo of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame and being extensively shot in India, over who directed it. That’s a red flag right there and should give you an idea of what territory we’re embarking upon.
But even a film strung out of non-stop action sequences needs a fringe, if bland storyline to keep things together. And Extraction provides that. Black Market Mercenary Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) is recruited by Nik Khan (Goldshifteh Farahani) for an extraction mission to save Mumbai’s gang lord Ovi Mahajan Sr.’s (Pankaj Tripathi) child Ovi Mahajan Jr. (Rudraksh Jaiswal) who has been abducted by rival gang lord of Bangladesh Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli). But Ovi Sr.’s right-hand man, ex-para forces Saju (Randeep Hooda) under whose care Ovi Jr. was feels guilty, responsible and scared for his family and embarks upon a mission of his own to bring the kid home. Double-crosses and betrayals lie ahead amid the cacophony of violence.
The premise, while thin, is good enough to provide Hemsworth’s Tyler an excuse to rip through scores upon scores of anonymous goons. To add some depth to the proceedings, Tyler is given a tragic backstory involving the loss of his son to cancer which sends him on this destructive path in life and spurs within him a death wish of sorts. The brooding, scarred and muscular Tyler is the perfect protagonist to tear Asif’s henchmen to shreds via gore and extreme violence but even he has his limits, never mind how far they may be.
Extraction does not harbor any intentions of fleshing out its characters and storyline beyond what’s necessary for the narrative. You’re left to fill in the blanks whether it’s the gang war between Tripathi’s Ovi and Painyuli’s Asif or Hemsworth’s endless supply of ammo and grenades. This helps keep things tight and the editors have done a fine job of keeping the runtime just shy of 2 hours. Stars like Pankaj Tripathi and David Harbor feature in roles that amount to nothing more than glorified cameos. As Nik Khan, Farahani gets stuff to do including taking out some crucial bad guys at the end but not before being inconspicious for most of the film. And Jaiswal does an okay job in his more emotional scenes but his dialogue delivery comes across as a bit hackneyed thanks to the immense pressure of sharing scenes with Hemsworth to the point of inducing cringe.
The focus then is squarely on the duo of Randeep Hooda and Chris Hemsworth. Hooda does his best adding some dimension to Saju with his attachment to family; his performance sells the fear he harbors for their safety that drives him to madness before he comes to his senses. Seeing him face-off against Hemsworth is going to be a treat for Indian fans (more on this later). The burden of carrying Extraction falls squarely on Chris Hemsworth’s shoulders and I’m surprised at how much nuance, emotion and depth he adds to Tyler Rake with the thin material he’s handed. His sincerity emanates through the screen and his charisma oozes in the action that he partakes in. It’s not the best of characters he’s played but he plays it the best he could.
But, as I started the review, Extraction knows what it is and it fulfils its core competency well enough. The action is relentless, the storyline almost leaping from one sequence to the next with pauses to “delve” into characters. Director Sam Hargrave who served as the stunt coordinator on the last two Avengers films brings his expertise to the forefront. Early on, there’s a spectacular one-take sequence filmed through the streets of Bangladesh (or its stand-in) that includes a car chase, a hide-and-seek through worn out buildings, intense one-on-one combat and a truck escape. The 11-minute 1917-style take is mighty impressive and evokes memories of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children Of Men or the lengthy takes of John Wick, only a lot more ambitious. Despite the numerous attempts to conceal what is essentially meant to look like a continuous shot, the effort is laudable and the sequence is highly enjoyable.
Some of the action does get a bit tedious but Hargrave and writer Joe Russo try and keep things fresh by tweaking elements of a scene. There’s a violent showdown with kids inspired by Asif to take up arms and the final act takes place on a bridge but not before the protagonists dispatch loads of nameless men on the streets that gets repetitive quickly. Regardless, it’s all impeccably executed and the sheer number of surrounding extras in place leave no doubt that this $65 million flick is an A-grade production with an international feel to it.
Newton Thomas Sigel provides competent cinematography that serves the actions sequences especially well. The long take contains multiple moments that look like they’re straight out of video-game cutscenes from Call Of Duty dialed up to a 11, with the camera transitioning in and out between first-person takes, long shots, steadicam and onboard vehicles, capturing the action with an energy and frenzy that mirrors the actors themselves. The color palette differentiates locations with cooler hues used for Mumbai and Australia and a warmer, sunny hue used to depict the crowded, claustrophobic, hot and dingy streets of Dhaka (again, a cliched device). The Russos bring in their composer Henry Jackman from their Captain America films and while he delivers a fine, melancholic theme, it gets lost in the barrage of bullets that whiz past the screen on multiple ocassions.
The film tries to add weight narratively but ocassionally falters. The bonding scenes between Hemsworth and Jaiswal while earnest, get bogged down by Jaiswal’s delivery. Priyanshu tries his best to infuse a sadistic, sinister vibe in Asif and it succeeds enough to elevate him as a fair antagonist. But Extraction frequently takes its suspension of belief too far whether its with the crazy zoom binoculars, the amount of bodies Tyler takes out or the final shot that seems to undo a lot of our investment in a character until that point.
On the whole, Extraction is a fun, decent action film but it’s nothing more. It’s cinema with all the right ingredients: top-notch production values, stars, music and loads of action. But a lesser emphasis on characters and story means you won’t remember much of this a few weeks down the line. It falls short of John Wick (stronger characterization and mood) and The Bourne series (suspense) and thanks to recent efforts to step up their plot and quality of action, even the Mission: Impossible series. But it’s likely better than some of Dwayne Johnson’s outings such as Rampage and even the more recent Fast and Furious installments in that it handles the overuse of cliches as best as it can.
Netflix and the team aren’t shying away from the film’s primary target audience, which seems to be Indians (and possibly Bangladeshis). Filmed in Indian locations with an assortment of Bollywood actors, at least one of which plays a major role, its inclusion of several Indian soundtracks as nifty easter-eggs and its inclusion of Hindi, the crew has left no stone unturned to ensure Indian subscribers turn out in droves to watch this movie. As for Bangladesh, its depiction of the language has received considerable criticism so it may not turn out to be as popular in that territory. But how often do you get a Hollywood production that so seamlessly incorporates Indian elements that it feels like a semi-Bollywood film of the highest quality? To that end, it’s certainly worth spending 2 hours of your time, if not more.