With the traditional summer blockbuster on hold for the near future, we’re missing out on so much: inexplicably sticky floors, the glow of phone screens in the dark, popcorn that costs more than hand sanitiser. Luckily Netflix is here to fulfil at least one craving: our insatiable demand for big-budget violence.
Extraction, a new action film released on the platform today, stars Chris Hemsworth as gun-toting mercenary Tyler Rake – yes, really – who shoots, stabs and punches his way through one of the most difficult missions of his life, while also working through some deep personal issues that are only alluded to in grainy flashbacks. You know the drill.
At the start of Extraction, Rake is reclining in a sun-lounger next to a flooded quarry – he bravely jumps in, obviously – somewhere in rural Australia, which seems like an odd place for a highly paid mercenary to live, but probably came as a blessed relief for Hemsworth’s dialogue coach.
Rake soon gets a call to travel to Dhaka, in Bangladesh, where Ovi – the teenage son of a wealthy Indian crime lord – has been taken after being kidnapped by a rival gang. From there, it follows pretty much in the vein of Taken – one skilled protagonist and his vulnerable yet emotionally aware cargo against hordes of largely nameless foreign baddies.
That setting is interesting, because it marks a serious departure from the source material. Extraction has its roots in Ciudad, a 2014 graphic novel set in Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este, and co-written by Joe and Anthony Russo, who are better known as the directors of four entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By 2018, it had become a screenplay, called Dhaka – which was picked by Netflix, a pairing that makes perfect sense when you consider the streaming giant’s designs on the potentially lucrative market offered by the Asian subcontinent.
Netflix is desperate to gain a foothold in the region, as new subscribers in its traditional markets begin to slow down (if you ignore the recent lockdown-inspired surge). It entered the Indian market in 2016, but it’s lagging behind its rivals. Unlike in the United States and Europe, where Netflix entered the market as a cheaper alternative to cable or satellite services, in India it’s a premium product that has generally been more expensive than the incumbents, at 500 rupees per month (about £5).
As a result, Netflix had just five per cent market share in India as of October 2019, according to research platform Oddup, compared to ten per cent for Amazon Prime, and 29 per cent for Hotstar, the local player which was purchased by Disney in 2019.
To try and crack the market, where improving infrastructure is enabling more and more potential viewers to get online, Netflix has launched a mobile-only subscription, and – like Amazon Prime – it has started to make and release content aimed specifically at the Indian market, where streaming services aren’t subject to the same tight controls on sex and violence as broadcast television.
The desire to crack India could help to explain the change of location from the source material, and the inclusion of a number of stars of Hindi cinema in the supporting cast, including Randeep Hooda as a chief of staff who hires Rake and his crew when tasked by his boss with getting Ovi back.
A script for Extraction has been floating around for years, but it began to take shape when Sam Hargrave – Marvel Cinematic Universe stunt director and body double for Captain America – took an interest while working with the Russos on Avengers Infinity War and Endgame.
Extraction is Hargrave’s directorial debut – and you can see his handiwork throughout in the film’s action sequences, which are beautifully choreographed and shot. There’s a one-shot fight on a covered walkway that’s like watching someone competent play a video game, and a car chase that adds fruit sellers, oxen, and slow-moving pedestrians into the mix, for a semi-realistic take on the impossibility of driving through an Asian city at speed.
But where Extraction ultimately falls down is in the other bits – the stuff in between the gun fights, improvised tourniquets, and people getting impaled on gardening tools. With their Marvel films, the Russos excelled at interspersing comic book violence with moments of genuine humour. But there’s no levity here – the lulls in the action are mostly filled with intense introspection as the death count ramps up.
There are no Taken-style quotable moments, or Bourne-level intrigue to garnish the simplicity of the plot. Extraction is big, bold and not very clever – but the decision to set it in Asia could be Netflix’s smartest move yet.
Amit Katwala is WIRED’s culture editor. He tweets from @amitkatwala
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