The story is pretty straight forward. Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is a mercenary with a death wish who can’t get over the death of his son from lymphoma. In the midst of a drinking binge not unlike the one Martin Sheen went on at the beginning of Apocalypse Now, Tyler’s partner, Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani) helicopters in to offer him the job he desperately needs. The teenage son of an imprisoned Bangladeshi drug lord (Pankaj Tripathi) has been kidnapped by rival drug lord, Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli) and his father wants him back. The boy in question is Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) and was meant to be in the care of Saju Rav (Randeep Hooda) but something went wrong. Next thing you know, Tyler is in Bagladesh and the body count starts to climb as he rescues Ovi and sets out for the extraction point. But, wouldn’t you know it, there’s a double-cross and things go south and suddenly Tyler and Ovi are ducking bullets as they desperately try to make it to the alternative extraction point and safety.
When every man and his dog is out to kill John Wick while he’s trying to get from point A to point B, Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski’s tongues are so firmly in their cheeks that we’re pretty happy to go along for the ultraviolent ride. But here, first time director Sam Hargrave, backed up by Hollywood heavyweights, the Russo Brothers (it’s written by Joe from Ande Parks’ graphic novel Ciuldad and produced by Joe and Anthony) seem to want us to take it all very seriously and that makes the violence quite a different thing. There’s no parody and no edge to it which makes Tyler a ruthless and indiscriminate killer for fortune rather than an otherwise good guy having a bad day.
Don’t get me wrong... I don’t have an aversion to violence in films. I love a good action-thriller, and I don’t mind a big body count if it’s a consequence of a good story rather than the story itself. Plus, I prefer it when the story’s originality and surprises means I’m playing catch up with the screenplay; but here, it’s the other way around.
On the positive side, the chaos of the streets of Bangladesh is breathtakingly and claustrophobically recreated on screen but the fights themselves seem stagey and overly choreographed. Hemsworth makes a good fist (literally) of trying to make Tyler a well-rounded character but it’s just not there in the writing. Jaiswal comes out better in his portrayal of a protected child who finds himself unexpectedly in the maelstrom of the reality of his father’s world but the ‘surrogate father and son’ tropes of his relationship with Tyler are predictable and ham fisted. Even David Harbour who pops up (in the nick of time) as Gaspar, Tyler’s old black-ops buddy, gets tarred with the same cliched brush.
It feels like Extraction aspires to share the company of superior hostage movies like Taylor Hackford’s Proof of Life (2000) or its even closer cousin Tony Scott’s Man on Fire (2004), but its much more akin to movies like Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet (1977) and Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks (2006) both of which underpin their ‘impossible odds’, ‘armed to the teeth’ obstacles with more compelling characters and stories.
But it’s the end of this movie that feels most cynical. I don’t want to give anything away, other than to say there’s a logical ending to this story which, by all reports, was what Joe Russo originally wrote. But this is Hollywood and Netflix, so endings are the province of test audiences and producer’s investments, rather than the sole responsibility of the storytellers. In this case, the final image of the film seems a complete contrivance and, to me, makes very little sense. But what do I know? The number of eyeballs glued to this movie and glazed over in anticipation of its sequel would tend to disagree.