Netflix's Extraction, starring Chris Hemsworth and is the sort of film I wouldn't have watched before the lockdown. But our current situation has definitely changed my standards of the kind of TV I'd usually watch. That's why I've returned to Westworld season 2, for example, despite having previously given up on it after three episodes a couple of years ago. What else am I going to do? Read?
Extraction is produced by the Russo brothers, directors of the last two Avengers movies. It's about a mercenary, Tyler Rake (yes, that is his name) who's sent in to retrieve the son of a drug lord, who's marked for death as part of a gang war. He has to protect the young man as the situation turns sour, with numerous factions gunning for Rake and his charge.
I thought it sounded a like another version of Tony Scott's Man on Fire, and to be honest, it is. Extraction is a very straightforward movie, with one extremely impressive tracking shot, excellent fight scenes and a brief appearance from Stranger Things' David Harbour, because why not? The quality of the action is no surprise, since director Sam Hargrave worked on the stunts for a number of MCU films.
The excellent set pieces, though, are offset by mostly dull dialogue, a story that's never surprising and a clichéd tortured protagonist in Rake. Hemsworth, an immediately affable presence, seems slightly too good for the film.
And yet, Extraction has arrived in a world where all the theaters are closed. If nothing in the world had changed, we'd all have seen No Time To Die by now. Black Widow's release would've been around the corner. Assuming it would've released at a similar time, Extraction would've seemed like a footnote next to those movies. Now, in a landscape starved of cinema releases until at least July, it's the main event.
Why Extraction says a lot about our changing moviegoing habits
There is a sense that Extraction feels more expensive than you'd expect from a slightly-above-average action film, these days, leaving aside an outlier like the John Wick series, or a franchise like the Fast and Furious movies. Landing a big star like Hemsworth helps make Extraction feel like more than elevated straight-to-DVD fare, and Netflix's model probably has a lot to do with it.
An enlightening interview with the Russo brothers on Deadline reveals a lot about why the movie is a particularly good fit for the streaming service.
Extraction cost $65 million to make, and producer/screenwriter Joe Russo argues that's around double the budget they'd have landed if it had released in theaters, and been funded elsewhere. "This is not a $100 million movie, or above. That's the market that is getting squeezed right now, the one under that level."
The Russos praise Netflix for supporting "certain segments of the market that used to be theatrical, but now we don’t think people will go to the theater for." While some mid-budget action movies still find a big audience, like John Wick, the box office these days is dominated by franchise films in a way that wasn't the case when, say, '90s blockbusters like Speed or The Fugitive were released.
The Russos embrace this change in habits, though, because it's a good environment for different types of stories. "They prefer to enjoy certain films at home," Joe Russo says. "We've been preaching it for awhile, but the pandemic is going to supercharge this. [Moviegoing] is going to become so specifically event-oriented communal experiences, that's what is going to get people out of the house and into the theater. Everything else can have an incredible life in digital distribution. We should be grateful and thankful that exists, because we are seeing more dimension in our storytelling than we have in a decade."
Those "event-oriented" movies Russo refers to include movies like the brothers' own MCU pictures.
He has a point – there is no universe in which I'd pay over £10 to see Extraction at my local cinema, but as something that just lands on Netflix, it really does have a place. The circumstances of its release, which no one could've predicted, just happened to make watching it seem that bit more appealing. Just after release, it was the number one most-watched film or show on Netflix US, and number two in the UK.
Netflix has been making action movies like this for a while now, albeit with a sliding scale of budgets. Michael Bay's 6 Underground cost a lot more than Extraction, apparently around $150 million, and was watched by 83 million member households within four weeks. Bright, starring Will Smith, was hated by critics but was enormously popular.
Using a metric other than the box office is clearly good for certain genres that aren't as big in theaters as they used to be. Obviously, though, it doesn't mean all the projects it makes are actually good.
Extraction isn't bad at all, especially if you're in the right mood for a gritty, unchallenging action film. And Netflix appears to have found more critical success with its prestige pictures than it has with its crowd-pleasing projects – Okja, The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes and Roma are among its most acclaimed originals.
If anything, the current situation highlights what Netflix's original movies are actually for. They're an alternative viewing experience to the theater, reflected in the type of product it makes. Their success isn't judged in dollars, it's based on attention. Extraction wasn't built with the current situation in mind – but, inadvertently, it highlights the advantages of the fact that we enjoy films from many more sources than just cinemas and home video now.
I'd take watching a new Bond movie over Extraction in literally every single scenario except the one we're living in right now, where it's simply not safe for cinemas to be open. As much as I miss the cinema, it's really cool to have something new to watch, even if it's a film I probably won't remember in a month's time.
Sign up to receive daily breaking news, reviews, opinion, analysis, deals and more from the world of tech.
Samuel is a PR Manager at game developer Frontier. Formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, he's an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. Before his stint at TechRadar, he spent six years at PC Gamer. Samuel is also the co-host of the popular Back Page podcast, in which he details the trials and tribulations of being a games magazine editor – and attempts to justify his impulsive eBay games buying binges.