Action movies, the louder and dumber the better, can be one of the great pleasures of moviegoing. When you’re with other people, every snarl, punch and roundhouse kick can feel like a celebration of all our latent Neanderthal impulses. Is this movie making us any smarter as a society? we ask ourselves. Hell, no! is the resounding, joyous communal answer. But the COVID-19 lockdown, which has rendered movie theaters off limits, poses a new question: Does watching an action movie while you’re sprawled on your couch, laptop perched on your stomach, have the same visceral thrill?
The answer, if Netflix’s Extraction is any indication, is probably not. That’s almost not the fault of the movie: Although plenty of people watch action movies at home, the small screen—even a biggish small screen—makes them seem kind of goofy and inconsequential. Paying 13 to 18 bucks to happily throw away some time with a bunch of strangers is at least a conscious decision, one that (hopefully) involves putting on pants. But the at-home action-movie experience is by its very nature desultory. Should you watch before or after you’ve done the dishes? That’s up to you.
I chose to watch before, for what it’s worth. In Extraction—directed by Sam Hargrave and adapted from the comic Ciudad, by Ande Parks, Joe and Anthony Russo, Fernando Léon González and Eric Skillman—Chris Hemsworth plays a mercenary named Tyler Rake. (An actual rake does figure briefly in the film—the moment should be funnier than it is, but at least it’s there.) Tyler, being a mercenary, will do anything for money. The gig at hand: Rescuing 14-year-old Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal, who gives a performance better than the movie deserves), the son of an affluent, powerful gangster. He’s been kidnapped from Mumbai and whisked off by the baddies to Bangladesh. Tyler leaves his disheveled abode in Australia, where chickens are free to walk around the edge of his bathtub—he’s nursing some deep, dark wounds, the sort of thing that makes you not care that chickens are walking around the edge of your bathtub. He agrees to rescue the kid. But he’s doing it only for the money, of course.
These baddies are really bad—one of them throws a boy off a roof, just to teach a bunch of other kids a lesson. That’s some pretty harsh stuff, emitting from the laptop perched on your stomach. It’s all rather cartoony and self-aware, yet still not as much fun as it ought to be.
And yet there’s Hemsworth, and that’s not nothing. He’s a fine action star, down to every burly, bloodied muscle: Whether he’s blamming assorted evildoers with an automatic weapon or knifing this or that miscreant in the chest, every movement has a grunting efficiency. Yet even he is outdone by one other performer: Back in Australia, Tyler gets his assignment from a tall, cool customer in a crisp white shirt. The movie barely tells us her name, but it’s Nik Khan, and she’s played by Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani. Farahani may look familiar: She’s one of the central actors in About Elly, from the revered Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. She also appears in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. But perhaps most memorably, she plays Adam Driver’s marvelously loopy, craft-crazy wife, Laura, in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson.
Farahani is a sultry charmer, and her role in Extraction isn’t big enough, though she does get to fire some pretty big weapons, and she has a stunning moment in the movie’s finale. Nik Khan, with Farahani as the star, should have her own movie. That one I would watch after watching the dishes. I just have a feeling it would be better.