With billions across the globe (hopefully) doing their part to stay at home to flatten the curve, people suddenly have a lot of time on their hands—and no new sporting events or movies to entertain them. There has never been a better chance to check out that book you’ve always been meaning to read, or finally chip away at your bloated Netflix queue. But while Netflix has a lot of quality content at its disposal, the streamer doesn’t exactly have a flawless critical record—you don’t spend billions on original programming without releasing a crapload of duds. And so, to help distract you during these stressful and unprecedented times, I will be navigating the bowels of Netflix’s original movie library to find the worst of the worst. This recurring column will continue until it is safe to go outdoors or my resolve breaks; whichever comes first. Our journey continues with the latest Chris Hemsworth vehicle, Extraction.
One of the most exciting trends in Hollywood is the emergence of the stuntman turned filmmaker; someone who, ideally, takes all the knowledge they’ve acquired from their intimate involvement in action set pieces and makes a goddamn entertaining movie working behind the camera. This particular road was paved in the ’80s by Hal Needham, who went from stunt work to directing Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, but the gold standard for this kind of transition these days is Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Stahelski and Leitch are the lords responsible for John Wick—something I consider more of a religious experience than a movie. (Since working on the first film together, Stahelski has directed the John Wick sequels while Leitch has worked behind the camera on Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.)
Not to take anything away from the duo’s prowess for staging clean, balletic fight sequences, but the John Wick franchise is more than the sum of its title character’s improbable headshots. It’s also written—courtesy of Derek Kolstad on the first two films and Kolstad and some help on the third, Parabellum—with a lot of knowing humor and ludicrous world-building, and driven by an incredibly committed lead performance from Keanu Reeves. In other words, it’s good when a stuntman turned director has some help along the way.
The erstwhile stuntman Sam Hargrave was surrounded with some elite talent for his directorial debut, Extraction, out Friday on Netflix. Hargrave, who did stunt coordination on several Marvel movies and served as Chris Evans’s stunt double on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was working off a script from Joe Russo, one half of the directing duo behind The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. (Joe’s brother and frequent collaborator, Anthony Russo, is a producer on the film.) And while Hargrave didn’t get the Marvel Chris he once stunt-doubled for, the first-time director was blessed with another for the lead role in his film: Chris Hemsworth, a.k.a. Thor. So Extraction should be awesome … right?
Well, it’s complicated. I can’t, in good conscience, say that Extraction is a great movie, but Hargrave mostly holds up his end of the bargain; the film has a couple of ambitious and seamless action sequences. Unfortunately for Hargrave—and Netflix subscribers—Russo’s cliché-ridden script, which doesn’t even have the decency to let Hemsworth lean into his natural comedic instincts, has seams showing all over.
The only funny thing about Hemsworth’s character in Extraction is that his name is Tyler Rake, which sounds like it came out of an online Rogue Mercenary Name Generator. He is the sort of tortured soul who prefers to inflict pain rather than process his own—pretend to be shocked when you find out that he’s divorced and has a dead son. At least the dude knows how to make an entrance—he chugs a beer, jumps off a huge cliff, and then begins meditating at the bottom of a lake.
I would watch an entire movie where Chris Hemsworth leaps off giant platforms and silently contemplates the human condition, but Tyler Rake has a new assignment. Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the teenage son of an imprisoned Indian drug lord, is kidnapped by his father’s archrival, the biggest kingpin of neighboring Bangladesh. (“Sounds like some mythic shit,” Tyler astutely points out.) Tyler’s mission is to—you guessed it—extract Ovi from the capital city of Dhaka and return the kid safely to Mumbai. But as these things normally go, there are some deadly setbacks for Tyler, Ovi, and his mercenary sidekicks.
Russo leans into all the action movie tropes—“We were played!” a character actually says—so heavily that at the beginning I genuinely wondered whether the film was satire. (Russo directed so many episodes of Community, he should know better!) But Extraction is deadly serious, stressing how evil the Bangladeshi kingpin is by showing him order a henchman to throw a small child from a roof because he might’ve stolen some money. Hemsworth, meanwhile, is so devoid of his usual charisma that it’s hard to buy the character slowly growing a conscience by protecting a child who reminds him of what he’s lost. It wouldn’t kill the guy to smile; that’s what the endless gunfire is for.
Thankfully, Hargrave gives Hemsworth plenty of moments to shine as an action star. Extraction eventually gets too mindless, even by action movie standards, with a final act that’s a little heavy on artillery, but the first half of the movie features some impressively brutal hand-to-hand combat. It’s less 6 Underground, more The Night Comes for Us—Tyler Rake even gets to kill someone with a rake, at which point I whispered to myself, cinema. (Sorry, but you’ll have to watch the movie to see it for yourself; it’s too gnarly to display in GIF form.)
But what viewers are really going to be talking about is Hargrave staging a roughly 12-minute single-take sequence in which Tyler weaves through traffic and a packed apartment complex, and barely survives some close-quarters knife fighting. It’s not a genuine single take—there are some hidden cuts, à la 2020 Best Picture nominee 1917—but the clever choreography and framing is destined to land on some best-of action movie YouTube compilations. I think my favorite part is this creative reload-kill sequence, to which even the Baba Yaga would tip his hat:
If the story’s setup and execution for the long take is intentionally gimmicky, Hargrave has earned the right to be a tiny bit selfish. Extraction will be a minor blip on Joe Russo and Hemsworth’s résumés—the guy who codirected the highest-grossing movie ever can phone in a lazy script and get away with it; the actor is still an elite Hollywood Chris—but the film is Hargrave’s way of trying to make his pivot from stunt work to filmmaking a full-time thing. I hope it works out for him. Extraction is proficient enough in all the right places—namely, when Tyler Rake has to use his hands instead of an assault weapon and throws goons around like they’re couch cushions—to show that Hargrave deserves more work behind the camera.
Extraction, in fact, is easily the best movie that I’ve covered in this streaming column that’s supposed to highlight the worst of the Netflix originals. Maybe Extraction isn’t good—it has serious midtier video-on-demand energy—but for the action movie completist who enjoys well-choreographed carnage, it will not be a waste of time. All I hope for now is that we can extract Hargrave before he’s handed any more god-awful scripts, and see what this potentially promising action director can do when everyone on a production team brings their A game.