Chris Hemsworth was initially a bit wary about signing on to the new Netflix action movie "Extraction." On the face of it, the idea of playing a black market mercenary hired to rescue the kidnapped teenage son of a crime boss in the film, which is now available for streaming, didn't necessarily sound enticing. After all, Hemsworth has already done more than his share of battling baddies and saving citizens as the hammer-wielding superhero Thor in a string of Marvel blockbusters, with more installments on the way.
But as Joe and Anthony Russo, with whom Hemsworth worked on "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Endgame," pitched him their conception of a 1970s-style, character-driven action thriller — one that would be as much a meditation on bravery, sacrifice and redemption as a slam-bang adrenaline ride through the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh — the actor quickly warmed to the idea.
"At first I didn’t know if I wanted to do an action film," Hemsworth told The Times earlier this week. "Yet the emotional resonance of the story and the heartbeat and the relationships within it really struck a chord with me and were unique in an action film like this."
With a major star on board, one whose films have collectively grossed more than $10 billion worldwide, another question quickly — and, in the logic of Hollywood, perhaps inevitably — arose: Could a franchise be built around Hemsworth's haunted, deadly character of Tyler Rake? Could audiences follow him on other death-defying missions in other far-flung, dangerous corners of the world?
After watching "Extraction," viewers may be left pondering just those questions. And that is no accident.
Warning: major plot spoilers ahead.
After more than 90 minutes of relentless, elaborately choreographed chase sequences and fight scenes, "Extraction" ends on a note of mystery and ambiguity.
Having successfully transported the young Ovi out of Dhaka, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, a bloody and battered Rake appears to die in a climactic gunfight on a bridge out of the city, plunging into the river below after having been shot in the neck. His final thoughts, seen in flashbacks, are of his own dead son, suggesting that in sacrificing his life to save Ovi's he found a final measure of peace after years of torment over that heartbreaking loss.
Then, in a final coda before the credits roll, we see Ovi months later, now relocated and living in safety from his father's enemies, dive into a swimming pool. As he surfaces from the water, he turns to the side of the pool and sees what appears to be Rake, watching over him. The image is blurry but the implication seems clear: Rake has, in fact, survived and is continuing to protect Ovi from harm.
Or has he? Maybe Rake isn't physically there but is a kind of spectral presence, guarding Ovi from the beyond. Or maybe he is simply a figment of the boy's imagination. Or maybe it's just some random guy standing by the side of a pool.
Stunt coordinator-turned-director Sam Hargrave, who makes his feature debut with "Extraction," says it was deliberately left to the audience to decide how to interpret the film's final moments.
"We did it in a way that was purposefully ambiguous," Hargrave says. "If you view the movie and you feel like Tyler’s redemption is completed through sacrifice, then you would see that in one way, with the kid honoring him through a vision. Or if you loved the character and his overcoming all of the odds to survive is what made the story happy for you, then you will see Tyler Rake in that image. Hopefully people will be satisfied with the ending no matter how they feel about the movie along the way."
Hargrave says that ambiguous ending evolved over the course of the film's development and through its filming, with different versions being shot along the way. "There were certain ideas going into the production of Tyler’s fate and halfway through our perspective of that fate started to shift," he says. "We didn’t want to alienate viewers and we tried to satisfy both sides. During test screenings there was kind of a 50-50 split on people wanting Tyler to live or wanting Tyler to die. So there was a desire to kind of please both sides by having a bit of ambiguity."
In leaving open the possibility that Rake survived, of course, the film also creates an opening for a sequel. The Russos, who adapted "Extraction" from a graphic novel called "Ciudad" that they co-wrote with Ande Parks about a decade ago, say that they discussed the potential of building a franchise around Rake during the film's development. But they insist that "Extraction" wasn't designed with that in mind.
"You certainly talk about that when you’re in loose creative conversations about a project, that this could be an interesting character to follow on a few stories," says Joe Russo, who wrote the film's script. "But it can never be your intention. Because if the movie doesn’t work, you don’t have a franchise. You really have to focus all your effort and energy on the movie."
Hargrave says that the potential for a follow-up to "Extraction," should the audience embrace the film, has already been discussed. "There have been a number of sit-downs with Joe and Netflix and definitely discussions have come up," he says. "We’re waiting to see how the movie does and see what the response is. But the potential for different storylines with this character and this world are very numerous and it’s not off the table."
For his part, Hemsworth says that, while he likes the idea of the film being a self-contained story, he is open to revisiting the character and his world. "I love the purity of it being its own thing," says the actor, who was set to begin shooting "Thor: Love and Thunder" this summer before the pandemic shut down production. "But I also loved the experience so much and I’m thankful that we did leave it open-ended in case we decide to embark on another one."
While the current pandemic has created a vast audience that is stuck at home and hungry for fresh content to stream, Joe Russo says it's too early to start talking about a possible sequel. "We’d be excited to work with the entire team again, but we'll wait and see how it does and how people respond to it."
Indeed, part of what attracted the Russos to partnering with Netflix for the first time is that it would free the film from the pressures of the box office and all the noise and instant armchair analysis that goes with it.
"Netflix has helped reinvent the metric for success," Joe Russo says. "Without all the prognosticators in the theatrical world and all the box office watchers, it’s really about, 'Did you enjoy the film? Did you enjoy this story that was being told to you?'"
As he sees it, the ending of "Extraction" boils down to the same deeper message however one interprets it. "I think it was just meant to imply hope," says Russo. "Whether it is real or a figment of the boy’s imagination, it’s an artistic and a poetic way to imply that Ovi had a guardian watching over him and he made it out of it. And moving forward he’s got a shot at a normal life."