Return of the Sad Action Guy
Extraction is streaming on Netflix now.
Not all action movies are created equally. You know that, and you know there’s a wide world of difference between an honest-to-God classic like Die Hard and a disappointment sandwich like A Good Day to Die Hard. Like me, you’re likely stuck in coronavirus lockdown, and you’re likely looking for entertainment to take the edge off. The question is, what flavor of action movie are you after?
If you break it down, there are really three kinds of action protagonists. The first is Happy Action Guy. Bruce Willis has played quite a few of them, and despite the fact that his John McClane is frequently scared, annoyed, or pissed-off, his baseline emotion is happiness. We know that because he’s in a good enough mood to crack wise and, if nothing else, amuse himself. Indiana Jones is another Happy Action Guy, and we can see he’s having a reasonably good time raiding tombs and punching Nazis in the kisser. The same goes for Dwayne Johnson, and even when his characters are worked up into a lather, they’re ultimately happy.
Next up is Angry Action Guy. For a while there, Clint Eastwood had the market cornered playing this role, and as Dirty Harry, he was frequently seething, vexed, or in a state of righteous indignation. Mel Gibson also played plenty of Angry Action Guys, before getting sidelined by some troubling mental health and racism issues. As much as Kurt Russell is known to be a laid back and charming dude, his Snake Plissken is one of the great Angry Action Guys in cinema. He exists in a state of nearly constant irritation, and he ultimately wants humanity to leave him the hell alone.
Lastly, we have Sad Action Guy. This protagonist has experienced a degree of trauma in the past, and their primary emotional state consists of being a big ol’ wet blanket. Denzel Washington’s John Creasy in the very good Man on Fire is a first-class grumparoo, and Keanu Reeves’ John Wick would be a gigantic bummer to be stuck with at a party. The latest member of the Sad Action Guy club? That would be ya boi Chris Hemsworth in the new and pretty decent action flick Extraction.
We’re introduced to young Ovi Mahajan Jr. (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) a tween living a real good news/bad news kind of life in Bangladesh. The good news is that he’s a kind and smart kid who will likely go far in life. The bad news is that he might not go that far since his pops, Ovi Mahajan Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi), is one of the two biggest druglords in the city. The other druglord would be Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), and his diabolical plan involves kidnapping Ovi Jr., holding him for ransom, and generally being kind of a dick about the whole thing.
Ovi Sr. is cooling his heels in prison, but he still (kind of?) cares about his kid. He springs into action and hires the amusingly named Tyler Rake* (Chris Hemsworth) a mopey Australian mercenary. The mission is allegedly simple – rescue Ovi Jr. Tyler’s co-worker/associate is Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani), and she thinks that the mission is quite a bit more difficult than advertised.
Considering that Tyler is a walking list of clichés, one of them being a death wish, he agrees to the job. Things become even less straightforward when he learns that Saju (Randeep Hooda) is after the lad as well. You see, Saju is a former member of Indian Special Forces, and a current enforcer for Ovi Sr. Ovi tells Saju that if he cannot rescue Ovi Jr, Saju’s family will be killed. Why is it that a) Ovi sends Saju after his son while also sending Tyler after his son, and b) why does he threaten Saju when he would have undertaken the mission anyway? Well…I have no idea, so, moving on!
From there, Tyler will have to kill a bunch of guys in order to rescue Ovi, then deal with an entire city coming to kill him. He’ll take part in a legit jaw dropping 20-something minute long chase scene, fight child soldiers, get stabbed, hit by a car, kicked, punched, shot, and have harsh language thrown his way. In short, he’s having a rough couple of days.
Extraction is a pretty damn solid action movie, with some pretty damn large problems. First, the good. Director Sam Hargrave made his bones as a stunt coordinator in the MCU, and this is his feature debut. “Bravo!” says I, since he’s made a movie with some top tier action sequences. They’re clever, brutal, and shot cleanly. As a stunt professional, Hargrave doesn’t hide his sequences behind hyperactive editing.** We can see everything from Hemsworth taking apart a room full of luckless goons, a running gun battle through the streets of Bangladesh, and a genuinely gripping car chase with a POV-perspective. If nothing else, Hargrave has delivered some extremely cool scenes.
Yet when we focus on the characters and story, things become significantly less cool. Based on the graphic novel Ciudad, the screenplay was adapted by Joe Russo, one half of the duo that directed Avengers: Endgame. His script isn’t bad, considering it moves very quickly and remembers to take the occasional breather to work on character development. The characters are the problem, though. Chris Hemsworth’s Tyler is stoic, competent, macho, secretly tormented, and entirely uninteresting. Our antagonists, for the most part, seem to be evil for the sake of evil. A henchman tosses a kid off a building. A ganglord delivers sinister dialogue that’s little more than threats. With two exceptions, the villains ain’t so good.
The first exception is Randeep Hooda’s Saju. He’s forced into a lousy situation, and he’s got to try and take out Tyler in order to protect his family, despite the fact that he admires Tyler. This is interesting character development pulled off excellently by Hooda, and I would have liked the script to have been a battle of wills between two sympathetic main characters. The other exception is Suraj Rikame as Farhad, a teenager groomed to become one of Amir’s henchmen. We’re seeing the birth of a child soldier here, a young man forced to make monstrous choices to survive.
The star of the show is Chris Hemsworth, and I’m coming to realize something about him as a performer. He’s a good actor, very good, and there’s a reason he’s one of the standouts in the MCU as Thor. When Hemsworth plays a Hero and gets serious, he’s not particularly interesting. Comedic roles, or roles where he gets to play a genuine weirdo, playing against type is when Hemsworth shines. I didn’t go into his genuinely odd performance in Avengers: Endgame in my initial review, but I appreciate it more and more as time goes on. He does his best with what he has, and a little subversion of the standard Sad Action Guy would have made things even better.
A movie where a gigantic white guy kills the hell out of a bunch of brown people isn’t a great look. Let’s not forget that while Extraction has its problems, it delivers a ton of well-shot action and a few surprisingly interesting supporting characters.
*Wondering if Tyler Rake kills someone with a rake? Well…yes, obviously.
**Looking at you, The Bourne Supremacy.