Recently, as part of a GQ profile that referred to him as “the god-tier Australian actor,” Chris Hemsworth responded to the somewhat dismissive reaction to Thor: Love And Thunder by admitting that they “just had too much fun” and that it “became too silly.” That was partially inspired by Hemsworth saying his kids’ friends didn’t really like it, but it also seems like the first time he has personally articulated the fact that there are two kinds of Chris Hemsworths: A silly one and one that is never, ever silly.
It’s telling that Hemsworth’s next project to come out after that interview is Netflix’s Extraction 2, the sequel to one of his least silly movies. Hemsworth obviously made the film—in which he returns as hard-to-like mercenary Tyler Rake—before admitting to GQ that Love And Thunder was too silly, but it’s still a very clear illustration of the “silly/not silly” dichotomy. One only needs to look at the most recent teaser for Extraction 2 that introduced Idris Elba’s scarf-wearing character to understand that this is a completely different Hemsworth from the one standing naked in front of Russell Crowe’s Zeus in Love And Thunder.
Elba’s character talks about how fun it is to try and track down a pro like Tyler Rake, and then he makes a gentle meta joke about “Tyler Rake” being an action hero name that is “fun to say.” Though the first Extraction is rather grim (they “humanize” Tyler Rake by revealing that he abandoned his family because his son was dying), that clip suggests that Extraction 2 itself is not necessarily a deathly serious movie. But it’s not Hemsworth who makes any jokes, other than a little wink at a kid he’s trying to extract, and even that feels less like a character having fun and more like an emotionless murder-man calculating what sort of token gestures will put a child at ease before he murders more men.
But even if Tyler Rake’s return isn’t a conscious reaction to Thor’s turn toward increasing silliness, it does reflect a choice that Hemsworth has made in the past to hop between that kind of role and this kind of role. After The Avengers solidified him as a movie star, he did a run of not-silly movies: Snow White And The Huntsman, Red Dawn, Rush (though he is playing a bit of a rake, pardon the word), Thor: The Dark World (one of two very un-silly MCU appearances for him), and Blackhat.
The Vacation reboot really unlocked the second Hemsworth, the silly one, and set up a very clear silly-not-silly pattern for the god-tier Australian actor. He went from Vacation to In The Heart Of The Sea (not silly) and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (not silly), then Ghostbusters (mega-silly) and Thor: Ragnarok (silly). He made a proto-Extraction in 12 Strong (not silly), then Avengers: Infinity War (not silly), and hopped back to silly (in a scary way) for Bad Times At The El Royale and then full-on silly again for Avengers: Endgame and Men In Black: International. He had a cameo in Jay And Silent Bob Reboot around this time, capping off a few years of exclusively silly, and how does he respond? By resurrecting the no-sillies Chris Hemsworth for Extraction and Spiderhead, his last two movies before Love And Thunder and Extraction 2.
The interesting thing about these two Hemsworths, and possibly the reason why he alternates between them so often, is that one is not clearly better than the others. Ragnarok was fun, but Love And Thunder was too much. Extraction was one of the biggest movies in Netflix history, but nobody really talks about Spiderhead or Blackhat or 12 Strong. Unlike a John Cena, who people only seem to like when he’s being silly, or a Jason Statham, who people seem to prefer being serious (even if he’s in silly situations), the general public doesn’t really have a consensus preference for the silly or the non-stilly Hemsworth—and neither does the man himself.
It’s good, then, that he keeps flip-flopping between these wildly different tones that must not ever intersect. The man has made more than 20 movies since Thor, and everyone still seems to like it when this buff, blonde Australian guy shows up in a movie to either play against physical type as a silly guy or embrace his physicality to play a buff, blonde guy. He’s good at both things, just … not at the same time, and not for too many times in a row.
Extraction 2 premieres on Netflix on June 16.