The names Joe and Anthony Russo have become synonymous with big blockbuster comic book films thanks to their work with Marvel Studios directing Captain America: The Winter Solider, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. However you feel about comic book films, there’s no denying the Russo brothers’ ability to manage large casts, complex narratives, and compelling action that always moves the narrative forward. The latest film to bare their names is Netflix Original Extraction. It’s produced by the Russos, inspired by the comic Cuidad co-written by Joe, features a script adapted by Joe, stars Chris Hemsworth (Avengers: Endgame), and is directed by first-time feature director Sam Hargrave. Without question, Extraction is the theatrical experience audiences have longed for since cinemas shut down and it’s available right in their homes. If you love hard-hitting films like Atomic Blonde, The Raid 2: Berandal, and any of the John Wick films, which have that put-you-in-the-action feel, cue up Extraction and scratch that itch.
When Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the son of a gang leader, is kidnapped, a specialty team lead by Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is hired to bring him back. The simple retrieval job quickly turns to a fight-for-their-lives chase across Dhaka, Bangladesh, as the op goes FUBAR, requiring Tyler to protect Ovi against local thugs and military forces as they make their way to a new retrieval point.
Hargrave is the latest stuntperson to get their shot in the director’s chair and he more than makes an impression. He’s worked in stunts or as a cameraperson in films like Transformers, X-Men: Wolverine, The Avengers, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Avengers: Endgame. Each of these productions are action-heavy and, it’s clear with Extraction, that Hargrave has a gift for directing. He’s not only able to make the physical aspects of the story convincing, but he understands how the various, and often continuous, altercations the characters go through wear on them. It’s the intersection of action and narrative where the themes within Extraction eek out, establishing a quite substantial, even if predictable, emotional weight to the story. Frankly, nothing about Extraction looks like a first-time feature, which, considering Hargrave’s experience in second unit directing, makes sense. The hallmark of the film is an 11-minute chase sequence shot and edited to look like one fluid take. The seams are a touch obvious in places, but the entire sequence is so thrilling that it doesn’t matter. Unlike Atomic Blonde, where the marketing was keen to continually bring out their 1-track shot as a selling point for the whole film, Extraction has more than the one sequence going for it, but transitions from car to foot chase are so beautifully executed, that this portion could be a short film and be just as total and complete in its stakes. And this is only one of several intense physical and technical scenes that will keep you riveted to your chair.
For many, Hemsworth is the reason audiences will show up. He landed with American audiences in a big way with 2011’s Thor, but it’s thanks to projects like The Cabin in the Woods, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, and Bad Times at the El Royale, where he had the opportunity to demonstrate the ability to be more than a pretty face in a tight costume. Honestly, of the performances we’ve seen from Hemsworth, this might be his best. He’s able to convey much of the tortured past of Tyler via physical performance, so that even before we learn his painful backstory, we already know what infinite weight he carries. Not to mention, Hemsworth is visibly smaller than in his role as Thor from Endgame, yet his performance is about a thousand times deadlier. Much of this goes to the preparation in staging the fight sequences, for sure, yet Hemsworth makes each tilt of the gun and swing of the knife for defensive or offensive purposes more natural than ever. Watching the actor move, it’s difficult not to think of the training Keanu Reeves engaged in for John Wick: Chapter Two as Tyler dispatches anyone who threatens Ovi. Hemsworth clearly trained extensively in order to make the movements organic to someone with Tyler’s training. Considering that Tyler’s dossier isn’t revealed to the audience, that fact that we know enough about him as a person and soldier to recognize his skill is a testament to Hemsworth’s abilities, as well as to the script from Joe and Hargrave’s direction.
The rest of the film is rounded out superbly from top to bottom. Only his third film, Jaiswal holds Extraction down as the moral center. Ovi is the only innocent in the entire film and Jaiswal’s entirely convincing as a young man unsure who to trust as bullets fly past. In contrast to his innocent is Suraj Rikame’s Farhad, a member of Dhaka gang leader Amir Asif’s (Priyanshu Painyuli) crew whose character conveys what happens when a moral center is stripped from innocence. Both characters engage in diverging trajectories and the performances from the actors communicate how their choices define who they are. Regarding the adults, Golshifteh Farahani (The Night Eats the World) portrays Nik Khan, Tyler’s handler/team leader, in a role that’s brief yet impactful. It’s rare to see a nurturing leader-type portrayed by an actor younger than the lead but it works beautifully here. In the few scenes they have, both actors make it clear that the two have a lengthy history and that Nik sees through Tyler’s bravado enough to care for him in a maternal way. For his part, Painyuli as Amir emits the kind of menace you want from a villain, so it’s easy to root against him, except Painyuli has this way about him, making Amir just a tiny bit charming and, therefore, more dangerous. Playing the complicated role of Ovi’s handler Saju is Randeep Hooda (Shooter), making an incredible impression with a character that audiences will strangely find themselves wanting to see more of.
If you’re like this reviewer and coming to Extraction with zero knowledge of the cast beyond Hemsworth, Cuidad, and that the Russos are involved, you’re likely going to have a blast. Extraction is an absolute surprise in near every way, making for an experience that would’ve killed at the box office. Extraction is entirely relentlessness, offering extended scenes of violence and little time for breathing. From a narrative standpoint, it’s expected, but what’s not is how well the film slowly pushes on the throttle again and again, so that even the few moments of quiet just seem like a respite from the billowing storm just outside their imminent view. Maintaining narrative energy while growing character development is a substantial task for an experienced director, and Hargrave makes it look second nature. Granted there’s a great deal of the film that’s subtitled, so American audiences might’ve struggled in the theater getting over that one-inch hump, but, with it coming from Netflix, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s viewed in a more tolerable fashion.
Available for streaming on Netflix beginning April 24th, 2020.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.