Film Review – Extraction
Haven’t we seen something like this before?
If Extraction (2020) were recast with Gerard Butler, it could have easily fit into the Olympus Has Fallen (2013)/London Has Fallen (2016)/Angel Has Fallen (2019) action series. As it were, we have Chris Hemsworth taking center stage with fellow MCU alums Joe Russo on screenplay and stunt coordinator-turned-director Sam Hargrave helming the reigns.
Stunt coordinators becoming directors is nothing new in the action genre – a notable example is Chad Stahelski directing the John Wick franchise. What gives them an upper hand is the consideration they put into choreographing set pieces and shooting them for optimal effect. Their understanding of how bodies move within frame allows them to dream up incredible moments of kinetic energy. That is exemplified with Extraction. Hargrave and his team devise slick sequences that finds our protagonist Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) jumping and shooting and punching and kicking and slicing his way through countless enemies. There’s even a moment where Rake literally kills a guy using…a rake. The violence earns the R rating – Rake sheds so much blood that it would make Rambo look at him and say, “Not bad!”
There is one stand out set piece that appears to be shot in an unbroken take. The camera follows Rake as he engages in hand to hand fighting, shootouts, chases on foot and in cars, going from city streets, apartment buildings and rooftops – all while maintaining visual coherency and never losing momentum. No doubt the use of CGI effects and hidden cuts helped pull the scene off. One moment the camera is moving as fast as a speeding car, and then whirls into the backseat of another vehicle, and then makes its way into cramped living rooms. Despite the cinematic trickery, the scene is well staged and believable enough for us to not lose the sense of reality.
I’ve gone this long talking about the action because everything else doesn’t match up to it. The story: Tyler Rake is a black-market mercenary, hired to travel to Bangladesh to rescue Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) the son of an incarcerated drug lord, kidnapped by rival gangsters. The mission turns out to be much deadlier than anticipated, as Rake not only has to deal with the gangsters (who are willing to recruit child soldiers) but a corrupt police force as well. To make things even more complicated, we are also introduced to Saju (Randeep Hooda) a fellow mercenary assigned to track Rake down and take Ovi back.
I’m all for a good action movie, but there’s a level of nihilism running throughout Extraction that makes it difficult to care for any of the characters. The main premise involves a rugged soldier who’s seen death one too many times developing an attachment to the kid he’s been hired to retrieve. Hemsworth does a good job of exuding Rake’s emotional turmoil – his dates with death have certainly hardened him. Ovi is meant to soften Rake’s outer shell, but it’s difficult to be invested in their story when Rake has made a career of killing other people for money – including younger people. If you’re ok with seeing kids and teens being beat up, thrown off buildings, and shot, you’ll get more than enough of that here. Ovi himself is a difficult character to relate with. Sure, he seems like your regular everyday teen, but he’s the son of a notorious criminal. Is rescuing him the healthiest thing to do? Going back to his home will only increase the chances of Ovi delving into the family business.
It’s a case of bad guys versus bad guys, with Rake being the least bad of them all. This wouldn’t so much of a problem if we didn’t see every twist and turn coming from a mile away. While on the run, Rake and Ovi stop by the home of Rake’s old friend, Gaspar (David Harbour). Gaspar used to work with Rake, and much is made about how one wouldn’t be alive without the other and vice versa. This was a perfect opportunity for us to explore Rake’s character development and his friendship with Gaspar. But it seems the production was wary of taking this material too seriously, and thus their interaction falls into the trope of tested loyalty. The scene is emblematic of the movie as a whole: lots of potential, a few highlights, but a victim of the recycled action movie structure.
Extraction is not a bad action picture – it’s just not a great one. Outside of the polished action scenes, there isn’t anything offered here that hasn’t been done a thousand times before, and better. I’m sure people will remember this for that one-take set piece, which is admittedly well done. But if we look beyond that, the movie comes up short on a dramatic and emotional level. It even ends with a strangely ambiguous shot that just made no sense. Am I being too hard on this? Maybe. But for a movie advertised as being made by the “Visionary Directors of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019),” and starring Thor himself, you kind of wish this was better than just “ok.”