What does Netflix get when it pays out a ton of money to the brothers behind Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame? A bloated version of a spy movie.
There's absolutely nothing about the premise of Netflix's most expensive movie ever ($200 million) that we haven't seen countless times before. Now this isn't necessarily a negative, as James Cameron's Avatar was brilliant proof, but here the entire synopsis feels like chewed-up leftovers that someone spat out.
The story of The Gray Man is based on the book of the same name, and like 700 other espionage-themed action thrillers, it involves a CIA agent who is "blacklisted" and thus about to be executed. The agent in question is called "6" and is played by Ryan Gosling and of course he goes hard and starts beating the crap out of every guy who comes after him. Jason Bourne has done the same thing. James Bond as well as Evelyn Salt, Jack Ryan, Ethan Hunt and James Reece (The Terminal List) to name but a few. Gosling's "gray" agent is, of course, super deadly and while the "regular" spies are dumber than a bathroom tissue, as always, only one other agent in the CIA is on par with him, and is given the job of hunting him down by any means necessary. This character is named Lloyd Hansen, and is a former partner of 6 (of course) and is played by Captain America star Chris Evans.
The Gray Man is made by the Marvel Studios "dream team" with brothers Joe/Tony Russo (Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame) directing while MCU duo Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War) wrote the screenplay. With Chris Evans in one of the lead roles as well as the stunt director from most of the aforementioned Marvel films, it often feels like a cross-section from a Marvel movie, minus the skin-tight spandex suits. What needs to be made clear here, however, is that it never feels like the Russo brothers have the right producer and/or are pouring their souls into this in the way they did with Winter Soldier (Marvel's best film) and Civil War in particular.
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The Gray Man is bloatedly monotonous, hilariously predictable and treats its CIA spies like they're Captain America 2.0. They jump off buildings, throw themselves from speeding trains onto car roofs without receiving so much as a scratch and quite often behave like Vin Diesel in Fast 9, which means that, unlike The Bourne Identity in particular, I never really believe in them as living, functioning human beings, which means that the thrills of the action sequences themselves never amount to anything other than mind-numbing money-splashing and dubious computer effects. The fight choreography and editing is also not good, as in most of the film's fights it looks like the stuntmen are pausing and waiting to get hit rather than that responsive, tight dance of beatings found most notably in the Russo brothers' Captain America: Winter Soldier (brilliant fights).
Another thing that strikes me as odd is how the Russos opted for a splashy brassy tone throughout The Gray Man rather than trying to create something tight, dark and a tad retro. With Winter Soldier they built a super-stylish 70s spy thriller feel inside a superhero movie and I was definitely hoping they'd use the same approach and mannerisms here, and was thus disappointed. Ryan Gosling is good, though. He always is. Gosling navigates the dialogue-driven scenes as nicely as he knocks through the action parts with a kind of carefree coolness I haven't seen on the silver screen since McQueen, Newman and Brando. I really hope he does more raw action now going forward, because it fits him like a glove.
Ultimately, The Gray Man is the same kind of twisted nonsense as Red Notice as well as 6 Underground, only with fewer goofy improv one-liners signed by Ryan Reynolds and more over-the-top psycho screams from an overexcited Evans. There have been worse films released in 2022 but not many with the same bizarre price tag as this one. The Russo brothers have proven with Cherry as well as this one with great clarity that they really need Kevin Feige's merciless iron fist in place to really perform.