Tyler Rake, a fearless black market mercenary, is brought in to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord. But in the murky underworld of weapons dealers and drug traffickers, an already deadly mission approaches the impossible, forever altering the lives of Rake and the boy.
There’s a moment during a frenetic, jerky car chase through narrow dusty streets when I was convinced mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) growled “bus lane!”
To be fair he had just been stopped by a bus coming from the opposite direction, and I assumed this was one of those minor flashes of humour that tend to litter otherwise po-faced action movies.
It turned out he actually said “fuck’s sake!” which means there won’t be a sequel involving Rake taking on the department responsible for sending him a penalty charge notice for being in the wrong lane.
Also bus lane infractions aren’t very John Wick and Extraction, based on a graphic novel written by Joe Russo, has a lot of Wickisms. Dead loved one, remembered in glimpses? Check. Ambiguous friend possibly preparing to sell him out? Check. Coloured city lights against a night sky? Check. Finger removal? Check, and urgh.
Though instead of New York we have Dhaka, and instead of Keanu we have Hemsworth, who is always gorgeous, even if he is covered in congealing blood. He could wade through a stinky sewer and still look hot, and indeed in this film he does.
Extraction‘s most obvious glories, apart from its lead actor, reside mostly in the fights and action sequences – unsurprising, as director Sam Hargrave is an ex stunt coordinator whose credits in that field include Avengers: Endgame.
This movie owes much to Wick and the films that inspired it (though Extraction‘s stunts don’t really have that balletic quality). One man taking on hordes of gunmen and winning? Holding on to one opponent while shooting another then turning back to finish off the first? Slowly turning an opponent’s weapon on them while holding them in a death hug? Check, check, check. It’s all gripping stuff, though it’s striking that while in the most enjoyable action movies at least some of the opponents feel like equals, here they feel like fodder.
Still, despite (because of?) its tropes (of which those listed above are but the highlights) this is still an entertaining, fast-paced, and often riveting thriller, where Tyler’s original task – rescuing the teenage son of India’s top drug lord, who has been kidnapped by Bangladesh’s top drug lord – is only the start of his problems.
We first meet Tyler chilling out with friends in Australia, where a typical pastime for him is throwing himself off a high cliff into water and then sitting cross-legged on the bottom for ages. It turns out to be a clever joke, making out he’s the meditative sort when actually he uses his job to block out his past. A Forces veteran, now he’s a gun for hire, tiptoeing into dangerous situations where the sound of bullets and explosions can never quite drown out the memories of someone else.
His rescue of the thoughtful Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) from the needlessly sadistic Amir Asiv (Priyanshu Painyuli), and getting the boy out of locked-down Dhaka, is hampered by the boy’s father’s reluctance to pay for services received and the kidnapper’s response to the humiliation of losing his captive.
The fights are certainly impressive, yet I was still pretty gripped by a story that left me always wondering how it might end for Tyler and Ovi, as their friendship grows.
Initially this is rather a soulless movie, a by-numbers exercise in one man taking down a score of people, until after the extraction when the emotional stakes jump up several gears. With Tyler trying desperately to get Ovi to relatively safety (one of the questions the film asks is if he can ever be safe), their friendship takes root.
Hemsworth imbues the story, and Rake, with unexpected depth and heart. That the central relationship between the battle-weary Rake and the young Ovi feels so believable, from such cliched beginnings, is testament to Hemsworth and Jaiswal, who build a realistic and touching portrait of two wary people, damaged by what they’ve lived with.
Tyler is both action figure and stoic, and most of the other characters are like satellites orbiting around him as he trudges onward. Too often they feel more like props to the story than people: Saju (Randeep Hooda), who works for Ovi’s dad and is sent as a cheaper alternative to Rake; Nik (Golshifteh Farahani), the capable head of Rake’s back up team; Ovi’s kidnapper Asiv, something of a psychopathic dandy in his satin waistcoats and long wavy hair. Life, including a child’s, is cheap to him (at one particular point I uttered a shocked “fuck’s sake” that could never be confused with “bus lane”), and his viciousness is matched by his refusal to back down.
Gaspar (David Harbour), an old friend of Tyler’s and fellow killer-for-hire, is the most fleshed-out character even though his appearance is brief. Offering a safe haven while always knowing their line of work means they can never get too close, his appearance marks an interlude that’s more unnerving than calm.
Extraction is produced by the Russo Brothers and Hemsworth, and despite its trope-y frustrations (the cardboard cutout supporting characters, the theme of a white saviour going to Asia and making it mostly about his emotional journey) it’s still well worth a couple of your free lockdown hours (if you have any. I’m writing this to avoid having to tackle Year 3 maths with my 8 year old).
It’s an exciting action movie that doesn’t claim the moral high ground. Rather it accepts the murkiness about right and wrong that often accompanies such high octane action, and its unresolved dilemmas about what might constitute bravery and mercy in a complicated underworld, without really tackling the questions that it raises. Stomping about in a quagmire, it doesn’t quite sieve through the detritus and get us to clear blue water.
Extraction is streaming on Netflix from 24 April.
NOTE: There’s no mid-credit scene but the last scene of the movie is crucial. So… ending spoiler further down (though honestly I think it’s worth watching the film first as its ambiguity makes it more interesting as an action flick. I had no idea who would or wouldn’t survive.)
Watch the trailer now:
Okay. On the bridge at the end, the helicopter arrives to rescue Tyler and Ovi. Tyler is severely injured anyway and is then shot in the neck, blood spurting everywhere. While Ovi is rescued, Tyler falls into the river below. Eight months later we see Ovi back in school, swimming in the pool. When he surfaces there’s a blurry figure in what looks like a combat-style jacket on the side, who presumably is Tyler. His survival links back to the first time we meet him, when he jumps off that cliff then sits underwater for ages. So… sequel set up, though just as I’d like to see John Wick’s earlier life, I’d much prefer an Extraction prequel to see how Tyler got to where he is.