Over the years, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe gradually evolved into the enormous franchise success that it is today, it has consistently introduced fresh faces to the world stage and fostered massive careers. This is both applicable in front of and behind the camera.
It was not so long ago that Chris Hemsworth was one such actor who shot to superstardom thanks to his role as the God of Thunder in the Thor and Avengers movies. Anthony and Joe Russo directed comedies like Welcome to Collinwood, Arrested Development, and You, Me, and Dupree before finding their knack for hair-raising action-thrillers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They’ve worked on some big-ticket MCU entries since, which will culminate in next year’s Avengers 4.
In the meantime, Hemsworth and the Russos will aid in kickstarting the feature directing career of Sam Hargrave, erstwhile stunt double to Chris Evans on The Winter Soldier. Hargrave’s MCU journey has involved him climbing the ranks behind the scenes, working as the stunt coordinator on Captain America: Civil War before taking up second-unit directing on Avengers: Infinity War.
According to Deadline, Hargrave will make his directorial debut with Dhaka, a drama set up at Netflix that will star Hemsworth. Joe Russo will pen the script while both brothers are to serve as producers via their AGBO banner. The film is due for an international shoot covering India and Thailand.
Dhaka will primarily be an action vehicle. Hemsworth will play an extractor hired by a powerful if unscrupulous businessman to save the latter’s son, who has been taken into hiding in the eponymous capital of Bangladesh. The Hollywood Reporter confirms that Hemsworth’s protagonist will be called Rake while Deadline specifically mentions his propensity to be “physically brave but an emotional coward.” Clearly, in this film, saving lives is not merely an exercise of good faith, but one fueled by inner demons and a potential identity crisis.
My gut reaction to this news has been admittedly mixed, but let’s first talk about the good stuff that Dhaka brings to the table. Hemsworth is probably one of the most lovable Hollywood stars out there and has proven himself charming enough to headline movies of all sorts. He has done more than his fair share of big-budget flicks across a number of genres and is an asset to comedy and drama alike.
Particularly at the hands of the right director, Hemsworth definitely shines. His work with Drew Goddard in The Cabin in the Woods is fantastically layered, and I’m hoping for something similar in Bad Times at the El Royale. Hemsworth’s dramatic turns in Ron Howard’s Rush and In the Heart of the Sea prove that his actorly mettle can move beyond mere likability and into the realm of gravitas.
These projects even do a good job to offset Hemsworth’s more muddled movies like The Huntsman duology and Blackhat, too. These less successful films exemplify that a good story has to exist for him to really work his magic. Hence, while Hemsworth’s filmography is peppered with varied results, he isn’t necessarily a tired face in the industry just yet. The material just has to be worth his while.
Hargrave isn’t as sure a bet, but the Russos’ endorsement and creative involvement in the scripting and producing process eases some worries about Dhaka. Before their bigger ensemble forays with Civil War and The Avengers sequels, the Russo brothers made the ideal character-driven spy flick in the MCU. The Winter Soldier is a storytelling wonder that keeps its protagonist’s motivations in check and crafts an exhilarating action-adventure experience.
A collaboration among such talents is worth celebrating. Yet, the white savior trope that is made glaringly obvious in the Dhaka summary alone does give me pause. White-centric stories continue to proliferate western media at a regular rate, and defining the extent of a savior complex that exists in each one would logically happen on a case-by-case basis. Far be it to judge a film before it’s even made, but elements about Dhaka — in particular, the film’s description in its preliminary stages — already feel dated and eye-roll-worthy.
As stated, plain as day, Hemsworth saves an Indian child in the movie. The story is told through Rake’s eyes and is primed to focus on his struggles. Thus, the fear is that such a tactic will actively sideline Indian culture and citizens, relegating them to backdrops or props in some white dude’s story as opposed to becoming proactive agents in a film set in their own country.
And not only will Rake somehow “find himself” through this path of heroism, there is no mention of characters of color who could fill a role of a similar size and importance. Furthermore, when Dhaka was mentioned back in April per the Empire Podcast, the Russos briefly noted that at least one potentially unsavory Indian role will be in the film:
“[The film is] about a kidnap extractress going to Dhaka to save the son of a drug dealer from India, so it’s a complex movie with a lot of political texture in it.”
Individual storytelling elements involving typical action thriller tropes — such as hero and villain archetypes and scenarios — don’t have to combine to produce something offensive. Drugs are a huge theme in cinema; so are men seeking redemption. However, whatever “political texture” that may exist in Dhaka ultimately comes from the writers’ and filmmakers’ western perspectives. This has to be made clear and challenged in the movie for the narrative to adequately engage with any “complex” social ideas it may wish to purport.
The question of Hemsworth’s involvement should also be addressed. He is clearly a big draw for Dhaka, but could there be a way for a movie starring someone so famous to focus more keenly on lesser-seen perspectives? It’s worth noting that Hemsworth has filled supporting character shoes to great results in the past, as Ghostbusters demonstrates. That said, the Paul Feig film had huge personalities to counteract Hemsworth’s from the get-go. In Dhaka, he’ll likely lead with his omnipresent star power. I would nevertheless like to see the film attempt to find a balance between his action hero and the characters in his periphery.
That’s how Dhaka should surprise skeptics. At the moment, the film does not seem to align with the supposed “progressive film studio” label that AGBO has adopted if it wants to retell a basic white savior tale. But practically everyone involved in it knows what a good story entails. Now, their job is to ensure that such nuances find a way to this film for it to truly work.