There are some Netflix movies where as you are watching it you can practically feel your subscription prices going up. The kind of movie that you believe may benefit from a bigger screen and yet you are also being kind and trying to give it the benefit of the doubt even after you have already checked out about twenty minutes in. To add to all this throw in the directing duo of two brothers that have not only made several billion dollar movies but have absolutely no merit to show for it. Yes welcome to the world of the Russo brothers, where very little matters because at the end of the day they got you at the Endgame so the rest can fall to its death harder than Black Widow. At over two hundred million this is Netflix’s most expensive film, even if most of that budget is going to its stars. It also comes at a time when theaters are slowly making a comeback while Netflix prices are surging and subscribers are dropping. The mega streaming service is not dying anytime soon but this is a major hail Mary. Their big toss up? A CIA spy thriller starring always reliable Ryan Gosling and captain America himself Chris Evans. Its comfortable territory, nothing wrong with that, but the execution better be damn good…it’s not, in fact it’s the near opposite. THE GRAY MAN is a reminder why we still choose to go to the movies, to get away from it all in the hopes to avoid the mediocre. When that does not work out and we find ourselves at home bored out of our minds at least we can take comfort in the fact that in an industry of chaos the Russo brothers stay true to their promise on delivering some of the most uneventful entertainment that can be given to the masses. At this point it is practically their superpower.
Since Tom Clancy’s work is getting a revival and Jack Ryan is back dominating Amazon Prime, it only makes sense that a more recent novel such as Mark Greaney’s The Gray Man gets a film adaptation. After spending years in development hell (including a possible James Gray film, if only) Greaney’s work finally sees the light of day. Ryan Gosling leads this star studded action thriller as yet another unnamed man only known as Six. A ruthless killer part of an elite program known as the Sierras. Gosling, devoid of any charm is introduced as a man in prison given a second chance if he joins this program. This opportunity given to him by a mysterious man named Fritzroy (Billy Bob Thornton asleep at the wheel but collecting a major check) and off we go as Six is a killing machine eventually leading a mission that involves him killing one of his own, discovering a conspiracy within the CIA and of course going on the run. Yes it has all been done before and then done again, and then done again even more, but THE GRAY MAN has a trick up its sleeve. Assembling a terrific cast of supporting actors that are so talented you almost forget they are given absolutely nothing to do. Rege-Jean Page fresh off his Bridgerton success plays Carmichael the new head of the Sierra program proving that not all British actors can do a decent American accent, and then there is Ana de Armas as Dani who spends more time dodging sexual harassment than kicking ass, and all topped off with Jessica Henwick as Carmichael’s second in command who is told to shut her mouth so much that it becomes her character’s identity. All three of them are introduced and forgotten way before we meet the big costar Chris Evans’ Lloyd Hansen. Evans who spent all of Knives Out somewhat proving he can move away from America’s ass to complete asshole may be a villain here, but he has brought zero charisma with him. Evans with his wannabe Top Gun Maverick mustache never brings the same humor or wit that allows him to move away from poster boy to douchebag. Instead he is straight up boredom.
Once Gosling’s Six discovers he is now a rogue agent and of course he goes on the inevitable run, it quickly becomes apparent that THE GRAY MAN has no intentions on doing anything spectacular. In fact for a time where Marvel films are being ridiculed for their poor CGI and graphics this film finds a way to top that. Yes, the irony is seen that this is directed by the two people who made two of the most famous Marvel films. The film’s biggest action moments, and there are plenty of them, feel more like middle scenes in a video game. Particularly a moment involving Gosling’s Six falling out an airplane and somehow being CGIed to look more plastic than he will next year as Ken Barbie. THE GRAY MAN wants to be another action blockbuster (hard to say if it will be when its on a streamer) but even its strongest moments, that involve quick scenes featuring mega star Dhanush, the film still feels lesser parts of better movies. It doesn’t help either that its leads are the least interesting part of the film and the supporting are mere sideline caricatures. Even if you don’t want a spinoff you still sort of hope that somewhere there is a version where Ana de Armas, Dhanush and Jessica Henwick actually get to do some exciting stuff.
For all its traditional beats one would hope that at some point the Russso brothers would find a way to shake things up. Yes these are the same guys who gave us Tom Holland jerking off in a porta potty for Cherry but deep down their unique Community tv roots must ring somewhere right? Again Evans for all his sarcastic wit is barley able to reach above forgetful 90’s villain stereotype nor is Gosling or Ana de Armas ever able to show why they are in this other than the inevitable paycheck that will allow them to seek out more passion projects in the future.
I wish there was more to say about this film, but unlike the overlord Marvel films the Russo brothers have moved away from these films leave nothing to discuss. This is the type of film you either recommend to your friends because you need to kill a couple hours or you are seeking punishment. THE GRAY MAN seeks out to bring more people back to Netflix and not lose anyone else, but instead it may be the perfect reason to hit cancel on that recurring payment.
THE GRAY MAN WILL BE RELEASED ON NETFLIX ON JULY 22