How you do you follow being in the biggest film of all time?
If you are a young up and coming actor there are two ways you can go. You can either use your new celebrity to pick up a role in a big star studded action adventure film, or you can use it to bank roll a small arty project that few would otherwise see. This is certainly the way that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet respectively went after Titanic with The Man in the Iron Mask and Hideous Kinky (it’s not what it sounds like). Interestingly neither of those films have really stuck in people’s minds.
When said film is Avengers: Endgame though; the spectacular culmination of a staggering twenty two blockbusting movies, then your profile and standing in cinema history are already set. In this case so you can pretty much do what you like and sure enough the original Avengers have all gone slightly different ways.
Mark Ruffalo went back to his regular day job of featuring in smart, important dramas with Dark Water. Chris Evans played against type in Knives Out. Scarlett Johansson wins by getting two Oscar nominated roles back to back in Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit. Robert Downey Jr. loses with the dire Dolittle. Jeremy Renner on the other hand didn’t change direction at all; he’s carried on playing Hawkeye in the Disney+ show due to air late next year.
Then there is Chris Hemsworth who seems to have gone a little bit the way of Renner and a little bit the way of Ruffalo. With Extraction, Hemsworth has stayed with the writer/directors of Endgame but in a very different role to Thor. Also, less like Ruffalo Hemsworth he has built a pretty varied career around the MCU, taking on comedy roles, character parts and hard action films. The trailer for Extraction made it look like this could have been any of the above but as it turns out it is definitely the latter. Okay, this was never going to be a Ghostbustiers style comedy but it did feel like it could have been a Fast & Furious style romp. It isn’t though; Extraction takes itself very seriously.
This is actually a tricky thing to do. There is a reason why most straight action films; things like the Mission Impossibles, The Dark Knights and The Bonds, still have their tongues hovering around the edges of their cheeks. Those that manage to pull it off, like Aliens or The Matrix, have an interesting, commonly sci-fi, angle or they just go so far with the action that you can’t take them seriously even if they do avoid the one liners, as with Mad Max: Fury Road. There are films that pull it off such as Sicario, The Kingdom and The Hurt Locker but they are about the drama first and the action second. The only contemporary set films that come to mind where the action is front and centre but the humour is nowhere to be seen are The Raid and its sequel. It is significant that these are not American movies and actually, while I know this is not an opinion shared by many, I found them a little bit boring. Does Extraction manage the balance then?
Well no, not really.
It tries to be serious but while it might think it is like The Last King of Scotland, it is actually more like John Wick.
The story centres around fifteen year old Ovi, the son of a Bangladeshi crime lord who is kidnapped by a rival gang. Hemsworth is the mercenary sent to rescue him and but the mobsters he is taking on own the police so he ends up with quite a lot of fully armed people in his way. I’m not sure if the film is trying to comment on the prevalence of violence and corruption in South Central Asia but if it is then it doesn’t succeed. The main bad guy is ripped right from the plot of every bad Steven Seagal movie and the setting, while not a location often seen in mainstream US cinema, is largely incidental to the plot. (If you want an examination of unfamiliar foreign culture then check out Hideous Kinky.)
At the start, when the film is focused on shouty gangsters, untrustworthy women and dirty streets, underscored by the drawn out strains of humming cello music, too contemplative and moody for even Braveheart, I was getting impatient with the cliche. Once the action kicks in though, I got drawn in. Mostly this is just, admittedly good, close quarters gun play from the school of Keanu Reeves and running round and through houses à la Jason Bourne but the editing is something else and it was this that first made me sit up and pay attention. There is a single shot car chase thirty five minutes in, where the camera moves and jumps and swings around in a way that is just not possible but is highly effective and it earned my interest such that this was sustained until the end.
Hemsworth dials down his normal charisma but enough of this shines through to make his ex-soldier likeable and when he references The Goonies you know he’s really alright beneath that gruff, frowny exterior. I mean, the fact that he works to save the kid rather than take the money puts him in a good light but it is the mention of a classic 80s family adventure film that shows the true integrity of the man. Having him mourning the loss of his own son works in the way ‘character development short cuts 101’ says it should too. Incidentally, if you wonder how they found a child for the flashback that looks quite so much like Chris Hemsworth, it is the actors actual son.
I’m not sure how much Extraction will register in Hemsworth’s career and like Jeremy Renner, he’s not done with Marvel yet so bigger things will follow. There are worse things he could have done after hitting the box office jackpot though (just ask Robert Downey Jr.) and there are worse ways you could fill your time.
The Ripley Factor:
Golshifteh Farahani plays the only significant woman in the film and with more than a little of the mysterious Eastern woman and the femme fatale about her, it is not the most forward thinking representation of femininity. This is a bit of a surprise from Joe Russo who wrote such good storylines for Black Widow in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain: America Civil War and Avengers: Endgame. Still, she turns out to be about the only person the hero can trust so there is that.