Chris Hemsworth has a tough mission in the new Netflix movie Extraction: his world-weary but well-groomed mercenary must rescue the son of an Indian drug baron. He is not explicitly told to shoot as many people in the face as possible in the process, but he throws that in for free. Offscreen, Extraction serves as an even tougher mission for Hemsworth. Think of the Australian hunk and you probably think “Thor” (possibly followed by “Phwoar!”). He has spent a good decade playing the Marvel god and little else (the less said about Men in Black: International the better). Without the cape and the hammer, will audiences stay interested? Or will they just think: “Why is Thor shooting everybody in the face now?”
This is a test that many retired superheroes are facing post-Avengers. Film-makers, too. Extraction is very much a Marvel-alumni project. Its producers are Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of the last two Avengers movies (Joe adapted the screenplay, too). The director is Sam Hargrave, formerly a stunt coordinator on Marvel movies. The Russos already tested these waters last November with 21 Bridges, a police thriller starring Chadwick Boseman, AKA Black Panther. Boseman isn’t quite so tethered to his alter ego as Hemsworth, and 21 Bridges was a decent movie, but it didn’t find much of an audience in a box office crowded out by Oscar contenders and blockbusters.
A more worrying indicator is the fate of Robert Downey Jr. Stepping out of his Iron Man suit after a decade, Downey went big. This year’s Dolittle was a broad spectrum, bells-and-whistles extravaganza, and it bombed spectacularly. Was that down to Downey’s diminished star power or his ropey Welsh accent? We’ll never know, but it’s sure looking cold out there.
Some are taking a more cautious approach: Chris Evans was part of a large ensemble in Knives Out. Others have chosen to remain in the Marvel fold, hence Disney+’s forthcoming series WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye – all featuring the original actors from the movies. The only major figure to have bucked the trend seems to be Scarlett Johansson, who moved on from Avengers to two Oscar-nominated roles last year (Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit). Then again, she still has her solo Black Widow movie to come, so it’s too soon to say whether she has really escaped the curse.
As for Hemsworth, he has another Thor movie in the pipeline: Love and Thunder, due 2022 (and co-starring his erstwhile co-Man in Black, Tessa Thompson). So whatever happens with Extraction, he should be all right. But many actors who assumed a superhero gig would be a springboard for their careers must be wondering if they’re not more of a final destination.
Extraction is available on Netflix from Friday 24 April