Netflix is wasting no amount of time releasing a new action-packed movie that could have strong potential to start a franchise for them. They’re spending a pretty expensive $200 million on The Gray Man, based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Mark Greaney. What will give it the attention to me is not just the ensemble, but it’s directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. The brothers put out four of my favorite MCU films, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to the best of them all, Avengers: Endgame. So it was interesting seeing them take on an action thriller, and this could make up for the lackluster results of last year’s Cherry (I skipped it after hearing mixed thoughts). Those who want a good time will have fun. But unfortunately, I couldn’t believe I sat through another one of these from the streaming service with a resounding “meh” when it was over.
In this, inmate Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) is pulled out of his 35-year prison sentence in Florida by retired CIA official Donald Fitzroy, where he’s recruited into the Sierra program, and trained to be an assassin for the government. Now under the codename Sierra Six, he’d become one of the deadliest operatives in the field eighteen years later. His latest mission in Bangkok has him discovering a hard drive covering dark secrets and the new CIA director Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page) wants it back. Naturally, this sees Six on the run to keep that information in the right hands. This task won’t be effortless as Carmichael brings mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) and his team to track Six down without hesitation.
Honestly, I was excited to see if this could live up to the hype, ensuring being a top-notch film to remember until the end of the year or just based on who’s involved. But for a price tag of $200 million, how? And it doesn’t even benefit from being a ton of fun that adds up to a forgettable adventure. Suppose you’re looking for other alternatives to pass off a lazy weekend. In that case, you’re better off with familiar movies, like Jason Bourne (the good ones), Bond (the good ones), or Mission: Impossible, to take control of your attention. The screenplay by Joe Russo, along with the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, couldn’t make up any big surprises when it has a narrative structure uninterested in being anything new for a spy vs. spy story of this type. Everything revolving around a rogue agent came off very formulaic to have our hero globetrotting across the globe. It’s just had a lot of stuff going on that was too much to focus on for a long two hours listening to pretty campy dialogue that’s hit-or-miss. Did I ever care about the mission Six is on? Not really when you want these characters to be more intelligent and not fall into traps you see a mile away and have a hard time understanding what the Russos are trying to get out of this in their possible message.
But one of the main reasons people will watch this is for the action. Thankfully, for the most part, they provided the needed energy to be impressed by, as one would think of when describing a big summer blockbuster. The best I’ve seen this year? Not close since you expect it to be like the incredible Winter Soldier-type sequences, but some sloppy editing and overexposure to them made a few feel less remarkable. A fight on a cargo plane briefly works; the best comes from a shootout in the city square leading into a fight on a train in Prague. It’s good action, but it’s not as impressive later on when it’s almost like the Russos weren’t capable of throwing everything at the wall to be an all-timer espionage thriller. After it was over, I couldn’t be the only person who realized they caused so much damage while keeping a low profile, right? We also get a handful of random drone shots this year with this and Michael Bay’s Ambulance not too long ago. So yes, it came across as distracting.
The two performances I knew would be the standouts were Gosling and Evans, respectively. And I think part of the reason why The Gray Man cost so much. Rarely do we see Gosling take on action roles, and it’s a surprise learning this is his first film since 2018’s First Man (so underrated). It’s a quiet and static character with a dry sense of humor that wasn’t as lively as other memorable characters Gosling showed off; he’s still a badass spy with a good conscience trying not to get killed. Though I will go as far to say Evans’s villainous turn as Lloyd had the most fun out of everybody involved and that might be because of his amazing mustache. He knows the movie he’s in when everything else didn’t need to take itself seriously. Please give me more Evans playing against type characters because he’s nailing them.
Everybody else should’ve had more to do, and the script doesn’t let them. I was disappointed with the bit of development they gave Regé-Jean Page as the CIA villain who could’ve been played by anyone else. Ana de Armas, who reunites with Gosling from Blade Runner 2049 and Evans from Knives Out, as Agent Dani Miranda, was fine though her character is almost like her work in No Time to Die, except doesn’t seem to enjoy her job. There’s also Jessica Henwick and Billy Bog Thorton sporting pretty bad wigs, Julia Butters, Alfre Woodard, and Indian actor Dhanush. Butters, best known for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, was the better supporting role as Clarie, Fitzroy’s niece, who has an illness and shows Six cares about her for a ten-minute flashback.
Oddly enough, this was one of the few Netflix movies I wanted to see in theaters, but it didn’t come to Indy. Frustrated at first since I had to watch it at home, maybe it was a good idea not to spend the money. And I shouldn’t say that with the Russos directing this. But it’s true. It wasn’t a good sign when chunks of the past hour left my brain before the credits. Besides Extraction, barely any of the Netflix action movies hooked me. It’s nothing more than attempting to be the next cool movie to a sequel, and much like last year’s Red Notice (I didn’t care for it), I couldn’t care less when it eventually happens. They recently announced not only a sequel is in the works, but a spin-off. Out of all the sequels we could’ve gotten with Gosling, the universe is mistreating all of us for never giving us The Nice Guys sequel we’ve been waiting for in the past six years.
Overall, The Gray Man gets points for its impressive action sequences and the casting of leads Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. But the Russos had difficulty making this script not feel like a shallow and cliché spy thriller attempting to move forward. I wanted to enjoy it, but I found it disappointing. Here’s hoping something unique will come out from the brothers post-MCU.
The Gray Man is now streaming on Netflix. Runtime: 129 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of strong violence, and strong language. Studio: Netflix.