Netflixs “Extraction,” released this Friday, is a by-the-numbers body count film. The screenplay is about as subtle as a car crash, and Sam Hargrave’s direction is as pedestrian as the inner life of main character Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth). Tyler is a hyper-competent mercenary with a (you guessed it) tragic past that we get to see in (you guessed it) occasional blurry flashbacks. As Tyler monotonously kills scores of Bangladeshis, you’re supposed to alternately cheer him on and feel deeply for his pathos.
The film has no surprises. “Extraction” is another in a dreary lineage of Chris Hemsworth roles that seem designed to make you forget everything you liked about Chris Hemsworth.
Which raises a notable question. What on earth is he doing in this turkey?
“Extraction” is another in a dreary lineage of Chris Hemsworth roles that seem designed to make you forget everything you liked about Chris Hemsworth.
Hemsworth is a brilliant actor, with a gift for self-effacing silliness and charm. But the logic of Hollywood says that beautifully muscled leading men are action heroes, not comic leads. And so we’re forced to slog through “Extraction” instead of a film worthy of Hemsworth’s talents.
This isnt speculation Hemsworth has had some great comedy roles on screen. They just don’t tend to be leads. Perhaps his best turn was as the bubble-headed secretary Kevin in the 2016 female-led “Ghostbusters.” Channeling generations of on-screen dumb blondes, Hemsworth grinned affably while staggering around the office, stepping in hydrochloric acid, failing to answer the phone, and declaring with hearty self-assurance, “You know, an aquarium is a submarine for fish.”
Almost as good was his bit part as heroic weatherman and cattle rancher Stone Crandall in the otherwise execrable 2015 Vacation reboot. In one scene, Stone marches into his brother and sister-in-laws’ bedroom in obscenely tight underwear, posing and flexing dramatically as he asks them if they have seen the TV remote. Christina Applegate (as the sister-in-law) looks like she’s swallowed her gum. Hemsworth’s self-conscious unselfconsciousness is completely winning; he just takes so much pleasure in those perfect abs you can’t help but do the same.
As Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Agent H in “Men in Black” (2019), Hemsworth similarly plays swollen-headed action heroes with a disarmingly casual self-parody. The excellent teaser trailer to “Thor: Ragnarok” is just two minutes of Hemsworth getting shocked and bludgeoned to the driving riff of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Rarely has a leading man made humiliation look so winningly sexy.
Still, the action movie tropes generally force Hemsworth to embrace competence eventually. “Thor: Ragnarok” ends with Thor gaining new superpowers and doing conventional heroic empowered things is ultimately less enjoyable than its trailer.
More oddly, Hemsworth rarely gets to have an actual romance in any of these movies. The first “Thor” film in 2011 featured a love story between Hemsworth’s title character and a scientist played by Natalie Portman. Despite some weaknesses in the script and the distraction of the improbable action plot, Hemsworth carried the roll with style. It would be easy to see him as a bearish Hugh Grant, or even a bearish Cary Grant a bumbling, vulnerable heartthrob exchanging flirtatious witticisms.
But that steamy Hemsworth romantic comedy hasn’t materialized. Instead, the actor has slogged through a number of drab action roles like the Hunter in “Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012) and Capt. Mitch Nelson in “12 Strong.” These are grim-jawed, furrow-browed, manly flexing roles, in which Hemsworth takes his clumsy-suave charisma and throttles it before striding off to shoot the bad guys for a worthy cause.
Part of the issue here is that action movies do better overseas, since dialogue is less important. Romantic comedies have become more niche and less embraced by top male stars. Gone are the days of When Harry Met Sally and You Got Mail. Keanu Reeves wonderful but almost entirely forgotten 2018 turn in the box-office bomb “Destination Wedding” is the exception that proves the rule.
Another explanation may just be that Hemsworth has been successful in action films, and so he keeps doing action films, good and bad. “Extraction” is written by Joe Russo, who worked with Hemsworth on many of the Marvel films; Hargrave was the stunt coordinator on “Avengers: Endgame.” Once you get in a certain professional orbit, it’s easy to keep doing what you’ve been doing.
But understanding Hemsworth’s motives doesn’t make “Extraction” any easier to sit through. Watching an actor you love drown his own performance in bland testosterone is a profoundly unenjoyable experience. It’s past time for someone (Taika Waititi?) to give the actor the leading comedic role he deserves. Free Chris Hemsworth from the action movie, and let him at last, at feature length, be the swoon-worthy cheesecake goofball we deserve.