Netflix has released so many bad actioners lately, that I almost didn’t want to watch this one. Films such as Michael Bay’s 6 Underground (2019) and Peter Berg’s Spenser Confidential (2020) have killed plenty of brain cells at the cost of little entertainment.

On the surface, Extraction doesn’t look any better than usual Netflix fare. It’s the story of a tall muscular white man who basically goes to a couple of brown countries to save a brown kid from evil brown men, where he brutally kills enough brown bad guys to fill a village. Sure, the premise isn’t as crude as it sounds but it’s interesting that Netflix never considered the optics of their white saviour action-thriller.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the tone-deafness. Like so many films that take place in ‘exotic’ locations such as South Asia or Mexico, the film adds a dash of yellow in postproduction to make everything in the city of Bangladesh look dreary, alien, and abysmal. I’ve stopped calling it the yellow filter and I now call it the vomit filter, because that’s what Hollywood wants you to think of this bizarre, foreign and dangerous land where shootouts occur more frequently than people eat meals, and a familiar-looking hero with a Herculean body goes in to kick some underweight dark-skinned rear.

Netflix’s Extraction has exciting action but is completely tone-deaf to its white saviour optics

The story is by Ande Parks and Joe and Anthony Russo. Yes, the Russo Brothers, who brought us some of the best Marvel Films. In fact, this whole thing is a bit of a Marvel joint. The film stars Chris Hemsworth as former Australian Special Air Service Regiment soldier and now mercenary Tyler Rake. It’s also a first-time directorial effort by Sam Hargrave, an accomplished stuntman and stunt coordinator who has worked on Marvel films. But more on Hargrave later.

The Russo brothers should be ashamed that they wrote this. It’s a disappointing effort because they’ve written some good screenplays before. The story of a mercenary going in to save a kidnapped affluent kid who has been caught in the middle of a South Asian power struggle between drug lords had the potential to be compelling.

But instead of getting an intimate look at the drug trade and the psychology of the elite and corrupt in South Asia, we just get fodder for Chris Hemsworth to flex his muscles. Equally disappointing is that none of these local characters are written with any depth. Sure, Chris Hemsworth delivers an excellent performance, but it’s a pity that no one else has the opportunity to do so as well.

The only redeeming quality of Extraction is its action. And boy, is it redeeming. The fight sequences are, frankly, quite thrilling, and almost enough to make you forget about the problematic nature of the narrative. This is most certainly a post-John Wick film with exciting over-the-top fight choreography that makes every action sequence memorable. The creative direction of the action is a credit to Sam Hargrave who, like Chad Stahelski, utilises his stuntman experience to maximum effect.

The only difference between the action in John Wick and Extraction is that, while the former is stylised, the latter comes across as more authentic and may be difficult to watch for some. If Sam Hargrave can have a better script for the already green-lit sequel, and can make a less obtuse film, then we’ll be in for a much better time.

Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 10th, 2020