Extraction is directed by Sam Hargrave and is written by Joe Russo, the former also co-producing with his brother Anthony Russo. The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda, Priyanshu Painyuli, and David Harbour.
It is rather startling to see the Russo brothers, infamous for their work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have their names behind an action thriller that shows a complete disregard for story, character, and logic. Granted, I myself was a big fan of only one film the Russos directed from the MCU: Avengers: Infinity War. I had a rather tepid response to the Russos' other directorial works in the MCU, but I do know that the likes of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame were at least making conceited efforts towards developing character and telling a thoughtful story. So, how in the world can the Russos, and director Sam Hargrave while we're at it, show an almost willful ignorance towards much of what made so many people fall in love with nearly every new Marvel film? People didn't love Iron Man or Thor just because they had some cool fight scenes. People loved their origin stories, their rise to stardom, and all their little quirks and one-liners. Then again, how surprised should we be, considering this is the directorial debut for Hargrave: a longtime stunt man for the Russos and Marvel?
The sales pitch for Extraction would revolve around two things: a charming and perfectly safe lead actor in Chris Hemsworth, and that the movie brings some eye-popping stunt-work and action sequences that could be studied in film schools. Here's the problem: good-looking action can only take you so far. If there's nothing to fuel your investment in who's fighting or shooting, the action is no better than watching two dead-faced androids duke it out. Extraction's crown jewel is a continuous 12 minute sequence involving fist fights and car chases. I hate to knock something that clearly took a lot of time and effort, but I barely noticed that the scene was shot as one long take, mostly due to the murky cinematography and the fact that there was nothing stimulating about all the violence happening on screen. Some moments are just begging and pleading for a one-liner or something witty from Hemsworth, because it'd be the closest thing we could get to a payoff. It's kind of sad, actually, to see how the film tries to cram in as many cool-looking action sequences as possible, completely ignorant to what really puts meat on their bones: a good story and relatable characters.
So Chris Hemsworth plays Tyler Rake: a mercenary who is recruited to rescue Ovi Mahajan Jr. (Jaiswal): the son of Indian drug lord, Ovi Mahajan Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi). Ovi is being held for ransom by Amir Asif (Painyuli): another drug lord who presides over Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rake is able to find Ovi, but Asif orders a lockdown of Dhaka. Rake must fight his way through Asif's forces in order to bring Ovi to safety.
No, seriously. Those four sentences make up virtually the entire story of the movie. As you might imagine, the majority of the plot consists of Rake fighting off evil henchmen, thus the film's excessive violence and lack of story structure. There are some other characters that show up along the way, but their contributions to the film are so unclear, it makes you wonder why Hargrave and the Russos didn't just go with making Extraction a one-man vehicle for Hemsworth. Hemsworth is already carrying the entire movie on his back, so there would be a lot more intrigue if the film found clever and creative ways to have Tyler Rake navigate through Dhaka without any sort of outside assistance, perhaps using any violent struggles or moments of isolation to better convey any flaws or vulnerabilities he may have. What am I talking about, though? Taking such an approach would require putting actual thought and depth into the story, and clearly, this will not fly in a movie where anything and everything that does not involve shooting guns or beating someone to a bloody pulp is of little to no importance.
- Despite the violence overload and the shallow storytelling, Extraction is, thankfully, not boring. Part of this high point may be due to the fact that I was craving an action movie when I initially watched it, but I must give credit where credit is due: impressive stunt work is impressive stunt work. Action becomes a whole lot more watchable when there is not a lot of shaky cam and rapid-fire editing to assault your eyeballs. Extraction may not be as vibrant as the John Wick films, but the action is still perfectly comprehensible and goes out of its way to make clearly defined spaces where the action can take place. Hargrave also has a good sense of knowing how to not let one action scene overstay its welcome. Every car chase, fist fight, or other confrontation is about the length it should be, allowing every new action scene to start up fresh. Of course, it all ends up being too much of a good thing. The action looks and is extremely well-designed. Unfortunately, it all rings extremely hollow, and the overall experience is about as middling as you can get for an R-rated action thriller.
- Joe Russo should be banned from all screenwriting activities for the foreseeable future, because it is inexcusable for Extraction to have such a carelessly concocted screenplay. It's bad enough that the movie starts up its main conflict with essentially no build-up or exploration of who all these characters are and why they matter. The cardinal sin lies in how there is so much nothing in so many areas. The story has nothing special to it. The characters have nothing unique or memorable about them. The dialogue has nothing in terms of inspiration or flare (also not helping is Chris Hemsworth mumbling his lines repeatedly). The action, not surprisingly, is the only thing filled with life, and it can do nothing to break free from the shackles of poor screenwriting. Extraction is listed to be a shade under two hours at 117 minutes, but it must be known that the credits begin right at about the 103 minute mark, and believe me, I fast forwarded through the credits to make sure there was no kind of dumb mid-credits or post-credits scene. There isn't one, so that means the movie needs almost a full 15 minutes to list all its credits, which are likely all the people who worked on the stunt crew.
There are times when you can literally feel the panic from Russo, when he realizes that he forgot to resolve an important part of the story or include some pertinent information. There's a scene where Rake and Ovi have a sit-down chat by a bedside, when Rake tells Ovi that he had a wife and a six-year old son, the latter of which died from lymphoma. The conversation between the two is the first time in the movie that we learn anything about Rake's character other than that he's a bad-ass mercenary, and we know it will likely be the last time that Rake will be able to have any type of, "sit down and talk about our feelings" discussion, because we're relatively close to the end. This scene would be a good opportunity to have Rake and Ovi sympathize with each other and maybe talk about their respective family troubles, but it's all a little too late. By this point, the movie is already far along in its "story", that it's almost a slap in the face for everything to come to a screeching halt just so that Russo can slip in a little characterization for Rake. Besides, it's not enough to have Rake just sit in a chair and brood over his past family life. At the very least, Russo could use this mini-backstory to fuel why Rake agreed to take this mission or maybe show how his past traumas motivate him to be a mercenary.
The worst moment of all happens at the very end right before the credits, and I am wrestling with the urge to go against my own rules and give away what I mean, but nope, no spoilers means no spoilers, so I must try my best with making my point without sounding too vague. Basically, something that should have happened during the movie's climax doesn't happen, so to make up for it, Russo shoehorns in the resolution in one of the most ludicrous fashions I have seen from a movie ending in a long time. It's not that the resolution is done in some kind of implausible Final Destination fashion, but that it's done so forcefully, that it has absolutely no payoff or satisfaction whatsoever. In fact, it was a moment that took me from looking at the movie with plain indifference to outright disgust. It's a good thing that Joe Russo wrote this screenplay after he became co-director of the highest grossing film of all time, because Extraction's screenplay wouldn't cut it as a first draft in Screenwriting 101.
Trust me: I want to give Extraction's stunt team and choreographers the praise they deserve, because the work that went into making the film's action scenes is not something you can do over the weekend. The action prevents Extraction from ever becoming boring, and my goodness I don't know how harsh this review would be if the movie was boring on top of all its other problems. Sadly, all those hardworking stunt people have their work cut down by a rather pathetic screenplay, almost impressive in the way it gives no regard to story, character, or a satisfying conclusion. It's the kind of film that Michael Bay would make, if he wasn't allowed to blow stuff up every 15 minutes. There is no valid explanation behind how the Russos can go from top of the mountain with the last two Avengers films to this near-excruciating action thriller, somehow becoming a record-breaking hit on Netflix. Even better: there is talks of a sequel already in development. The Extraction cinematic universe is soon upon us!
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