Another potential Netflix blockbuster, another disappointment. According to reports, The gray man cost the streaming company almost $200 million, which puts it next to red notice like having an MCU-sized budget. Unlike most MCU movies, however, The gray man does not deliver the goods. It’s confusing because the directors are Marvel veterans (the Russo Brothers) and one of the stars is none other than Captain America (Chris Evans).
Some reviews have been overly harsh. This is not a shipwreck of a movie. It’s just dull. Had it been made for around $50 million with a cast of unknown actors, it would have been considered a forgettable popcorn movie – an acceptable way to kill a few hours. It’s about five-sixths of a solidly entertaining action thriller. The first 100 minutes are flashy and contain moments of tension and excitement. But the final 20 minutes… The climactic battle is an ode to absurdity and testosterone overdrive and is followed by an extended denouement that promises further adventures. Like with red noticeit looks like Netflix is hoping that The gray man will generate a franchise. The first indications are not promising, especially considering the huge price.
The story is along the lines of a low-rent James Bond film mixed with a sample of Bourne, a bit of Impossible missionand a dash of John Wick. Ryan Gosling plays Sierra Six (a codename that comes with a quip: “007’s already been caught”), a convicted murderer who’s been offered a commuted sentence on one condition: he comes to work for a secret appendage of the CIA (populated by “Gray Men”). His job usually involves assassinations and the associated mayhem. puts him under the control of the ambitious and amoral Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page) and his assistant, Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick).
During a job, Six comes into possession of an encoded file containing damning information about Carmichael, which puts a target on her back. Carmichael brings on board Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), an “independent contractor” with psychotic tendencies and a Freddy Mercury mustache, to run the operation. Six soon discovers that, beyond fellow agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), he has few allies to aid him against a growing army of enemies. The storyline progresses like a globetrotter towards the inevitable clash between Six and Lloyd.
Aside from the major misstep at the climax (something that’s more of a problem because of How? ‘Or’ What it’s manipulated that it happens), The gray man unfolds like a run-of-the-mill action thriller that simply doesn’t offer anything new or original enough to rise above the noise level of the genre. The Russos clearly know how to choreograph and execute chases, fights, and other generic pieces of the pie. The tilt towards CGI over practical effects and real stunt work is unfortunate but not unexpected. From a technical standpoint, the filmmakers do a pretty good job of building suspense and creating some exciting moments, but the lack of a compelling script prevents the film from reaching trailing speed.
The cast is made for astronomers with Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans going head-to-head with a solid list of supporting names: Billy Bob Thornton, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Alfre Woodard, up-and-coming Rege-Jean. Page, and Indian star Dhanush (whose small role as Lone Wolf is one of the best things The gray man has to offer). Everyone but Gosling and Evans is underutilized while Evans plays his part on the verge of self-parody. He would have been more comfortable in a dead Pool more than here.
Bypassing (mostly) theaters (although there is a one-week limited time), The gray man doesn’t have to worry about maximizing first-weekend box office numbers. The name recognition alone will guarantee a large streaming audience, but those are emptier calories than usual for an action movie. While technically well-crafted, the overall project is just too generic to get excited about. That doesn’t answer the question of whether Netflix will ever be able to produce a big-budget production worthy of the huge sums of money invested. The best titles on the platform have generally been smaller, more artsy and less mainstream. The gray man is part of an unflattering scheme where creativity takes second place to algorithms.
Gray Man, The (US, 2022)
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
With: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Henwick, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, Rege-Jean Page, Julia Butters
Screenplay: Joe Russo and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, based on the book by Mark Greaney
Photography: Stephen F. Windon
Music: Henry Jackman
US Distributor: Netflix