The evolution of the action genre throughout the twenty-first century has been interesting. In the early 2000s, action movies followed the same path laid out by films of the 1980s and 90s, albeit with better green screen effects and CGI. But, over time, as technology has gotten better and better, audiences have become less and less impressed. Gone are the day where studios could bank, without risk, on a film drawing in an audience solely based on computer-generated effects. Nowadays, they can still make their money back and then some, but unless they’re a part of an established cinematic universe or previous intellectual property, they are doomed to a life of video-on-demand obscurity.
That was, until 2014, with the release of John Wick. Directed by Chad Stahelski, a previous Hollywood stuntman, John Wick dragged Keanu Reeves from the fringes of stardom and catapulted him back to the A-list by having him fight endless waves of Russian gangsters with a viciously original fighting styled dubbed “gun-fu,”; close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat intertwined with impressive gunplay. Since John Wick’s release six years ago, it’s become an international franchise, and opened the door for an entirely new brand of action films.
The reason I have to bring up John Wick in a review for Netflix’s newest film, Extraction, is because of how similar their stories and production are. Directed by Sam Hargrave, past stunt coordinator for several films in the Marvel franchise, and written and produced by the Russo brothers, responsible for several of the same movies, including Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the film is clearly inspired by the previous direction of the John Wick franchise. With tons of impressive set pieces, incredible fight choreography, and a protagonist with both the perfect skillset and nothing to lose, it’s hard not to draw comparisons. But, to the movie’s credit, it never feels like a rip-off; instead, it’s an impressive example from a first-time director motivated by a passion for the genre.
The screenplay is pretty standard fair for a movie of this type. Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), a mercenary struggling with alcohol and oxycodone, takes a high-paying job to rescue Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the son of India’s biggest drug lord, from a rival gangster in Bangladesh. He’s doubled crossed by the man who hired him, Saju (Randeep Hooda), who’s own family has been threatened unless he rescues the boy himself. What follows in an action-fueled adventure that forces Tyler to bond with Ovi as the job that seemed so straightforward falls apart in front of them.
I think it’s fair to say that the main audience for this kind of movie is not as interested in the plot as much as they are in the action sequences. After all, John Wick only has about twenty minutes of establishment before kicking into high gear until the ending credits. And fortunately, the characterization in Extraction, while not original or particularly compelling, serves its purpose and creates just enough motivation to back up the action. Once the story gets going, director Sam Hargrave turns everything up to eleven.
The fight sequences are some of the best choregraphing I’ve seen in a long time and rival the John Wick franchise. There is a twenty plus minute long sequence in the second act of the movie that is all one shot (though there are hidden cuts eagle-eyed viewers might catch) and flows through several locations, fights, and a car chase, all while swapping between different character’s perspectives. Hemsworth looked to be performing all his own stunts and dances his way through each combatant with surprising grace and brutality. This part of the film, while definitely my favorite, does outshine some of the less-exciting scenes where dialogue is involved. But for every clunky performance (especially from David Harbour, playing Tyler’s friend Gaspar), the movie makes it up to the audience with another excellent spectacle.
Extraction isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be. It knows exactly what it is, and what it must do, in order to deliver some of the most stunning action of 2020 thus far. It even handles the difficult subject of child soldiers with a surprising amount of tact, an achievement the filmmakers should be commended for. Although the plot is predictable and falls victim to storytelling clichés that have plagued many other movies before it, Extraction is the first Netflix original in a long while I would recommend as worth a watch.