Extraction: Deadly, and Deadly Serious
There are more pressing matters of concern in the world right now, but as we approach the end of April it’s hard not to think about the fact that summer blockbuster season — a key aspect of the annual moviegoing experience — may be all but absent this year. While it’s true that this upcoming stretch has been dominated in recent years by the Disney machine and an oversaturation of franchise properties, and there’s growing and very real trepidation about the state of small, independent, non-genre filmmaking, the blockbuster still has very real value in the cinematic ecosystem.
I’m not just talking about financial value (although that’s a factor) — for me at least, the variety in types of films released throughout the year is part of what makes moviegoing so enjoyable. I know that we’ll get a few January gems, get a taste of some smaller indie projects with Sundance and the other early festivals, get our fill of big action and big comedy throughout the summer, and then be primed for fall festival season and a slate of major awards contenders (as well as some holiday tentpoles). It’s a predictable schedule — and one that comes with its share of problems — but that familiarity can be comforting.
All that is to say that Extraction comes at an opportune time, both as a balm and as a reminder of what we’re missing. Netflix’s latest original is the product of a check written by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — produced by Anthony and Joe Russo, written by Joe, directed by MCU stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, and starring Chris Hemsworth — and despite the fact that Netflix was unlikely to release it in many (if any) theatres, it’s exactly the kind of mid-level action blockbuster you’d expect to see crop up during the summer for those audiences looking for the next John Wick.
That franchise is Extraction’s most obvious source of inspiration. Following in the footsteps of fellow stuntmen-turned-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (whose Atomic Blonde is another apt comparison), Hargrave builds his film around the sort of clean, controlled, and expertly choreographed gunplay that Wick popularized. The action is impressively shot and edited, trusting the performers and the camera operators to capture the often balletic displays instead of relying on a dizzying level of cuts, a strategy highlighted by a truly dazzling extended single-take sequence involving an apartment building, several vehicles, and a crowded city street.
Hargrave is clearly most comfortable working within the action framework, and there’s a thrilling sense of joy to be had even amidst the hyper-violence, especially in how there seems to be a complete lack of attention paid to the frenetic gun and knife fights by the crowds of pedestrians nonchalantly going about their business. But where films like Wick or Atomic Blonde or Dredd balance brutality with a winking narrative, the connective tissue here is deadly serious, contributing to a level of nihilism that threatens to suffocate as Extraction reaches its final climactic setpiece.
Hemsworth is a genuine movie star, compulsively watchable in most settings, but any time he’s not mowing down corrupt SWAT teams the film gives him little to do but mope, wasting his considerable charm and comedic talents. The script unfortunately does him no favors, relegating the heavy lifting of his emotional arc to a single expository scene during a lull in the action, while spending what seems like a disproportionate amount of time bouncing between various secondary characters. For a film that should know where its strengths lie, there are surprisingly long stretches between setpieces that unfortunately feel like mere filler — the vegetables you have to eat before you can finally have dessert. But at a time where summer action movies are likely to be scarcer than we’re used to, the promise of dessert makes the vegetables worth eating, even if the balance isn’t quite what you’d prefer.