"The Gray Man" stars Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Regé-Jean Page, Jessica Henwick, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, and Billy Bob Thornton. Released on July 15, 2022, the film has a mercenary going on the run after discovering dark secrets about his agency.
The film was directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, who also directed films such as "You, Me and Dupree", "Captain America: Civil War", "Avengers: Endgame", and "Cherry". It is based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Mark Greaney. It still boggles my mind to see how far the Russo Brothers have gone recently. They started small by helming episodes of television shows and comedy movies throughout the 2000s. Now they're the biggest names in the action genre, thanks to their works in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including "Avengers: Endgame". As a result, they started to get more involved in other projects like "Extraction" and the recently released "Everything Everywhere All at Once". It's easy to say that I have nothing but respect for these guys because of their efforts in providing as much intensity and emotion into the action sequences as possible. But, of course, they aren't without their attempts to make the stories as engaging as people punching each other. So it's all the more reason I was ecstatic to see their latest action-packed thrill ride courtesy of Netflix. While I haven't read the novel it's based on, I was curious to see if the Russo brothers can repeat their success with something that isn't superhero-related. With that said, let's see if this film adds another jolt to the action-packed summer movie season.
The story centers on Sierra Six (Gosling). Six is a skilled black ops mercenary convicted of murder working in the CIA's Sierra program led by Denny Carmichael (Page). He's sent on a mission to assassinate a target suspected of selling national security secrets. However, he later discovers that the target is also recruited into the program. The target then hands Six an encrypted drive containing a dangerous secret from Carmichael. Determined to figure out the drive's contents, Six goes rouge, forcing the CIA to paint a target on his head. Even worse, Carmichael hired former agent Lloyd Hansen (Evans) to lead the search to capture him. Now on the run, Six tries to stay one step ahead of Lloyd and expose Carmichael for his misdeeds with the help of CIA agent Dani Miranda (Armas). Six will also have to rescue retired CIA official Donald Fitzroy (Thornton) and his niece Claire (Butters) when they become involved in this dangerous predicament.
It's no surprise that Netflix is looking to start as many action franchises as possible to keep up with the major Hollywood studios. It already moved forward with a follow-up to "Extraction" with Chris Hemsworth, with development currently underway. Now it's setting its sights on adapting Mark Greaney's series of novels into a blockbuster franchise and possibly making Ryan Gosling Hollywood's next action star. However, the streaming service would have to pass the "first installment" test to make that action-packed dream a reality. More importantly, it has to meet the expectations of a standard action blockbuster, such as its enjoyability and story. Unsurprisingly, "The Gray Man" met the enjoyment expectation, as it was undoubtedly a fun and explosive ride. The storytelling expectation, not so much.
The film's narrative is what happens when it takes the elements from other well-known spy thrillers like Jason Bourne and "Mission: Impossible" and mashes them into a typical "spy-on-the-run" plot. You have Six being an abused murderer chosen by the CIA to redeem himself by beating up people worse than him. However, his discovery forces Six to question his loyalty to the people he worked for and himself. Then, of course, you have a rescue mission to save Billy Bob Thornton and his niece from a psychotic Captain America. Regarding Gosling's character, the concept, and the talent behind the scenes, there's definitely some promise in the film being the next Jason Bourne. Unfortunately, it was constantly shot down by its lackluster execution.
"The Gray Man" is undoubtedly a middling carbon copy of better spy-related action thrillers, as it lacked the skills that made them iconic in the first place. It had the usual cliches you'd expect from a spy thriller, which is fine as long as they're used wisely to craft an exciting plot. Sadly, that's not what the film did. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely had their own hits and misses with their scripts, including the Marvel films from the Russo Brothers. Their screenplays for "The Winter Soldier", "Civil War", "Infinity War", and "Endgame" were still stellar for their engaging and emotional stories amid the superhero action. So it is a surprise that their latest screenplay was less than the sum of those parts. Not only was it uninspiring and lacked a strong emotional connection to the characters, but it also had some corny one-liners that were neither funny nor crowd-cheering. There's also a tiny issue with the pacing, which felt a bit inconsistent sometimes, especially when it's exploring specific character moments or lack thereof.
Fortunately for me, there were a couple of things that kept this spy thriller from being MIA. One of them, in particular, is the cast. Ryan Gosling puts plenty of effort into carrying the movie with his acting chops and his action stunts as Sierra Six. The result is another admirable performance from the underrated actor. Chris Evans as the deranged Lloyd Hansen shows that the actor is still fun to watch when he's playing a hero and a villain. Although his character isn't nearly as memorable as the other antagonists with similar traits, Lloyd suitably resembles someone I love to punch in the face. Ana de Armes and Billy Bob Thornton were also decent in their roles as Dani and Fitzroy, respectively. Julia Butters, who's last seen in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" as Trudi Frazer, did all right as Claire, Fitzroy's niece, even though I'm a little divisive on the direction given to the character's change in emotion.
Another element I enjoyed the most was the Russo Brothers. While the plot may not pack as many punches as Six, the movie further proves the filmmaking duo has an impressive knack for delivering fun and intense action sequences. More importantly, they provide fight scenes with solid choreography and don't require choppy editing every few seconds. Even the drone shots during specific scenes were pretty neat. Unfortunately, they didn't reach the heights of the Russo Brothers' recent Marvel outings regarding the emotional high stakes. Plus, the visual effects looked a bit iffy despite its $200 million budget. Nevertheless, the film met my expectation of providing some entertaining fight scenes to distract me from its narrative shortcomings.
Overall, "The Gray Man" benefits from its entertainment values, but the lackluster execution of its cliched plot kept it from ranking among the top cinematic spies of yesteryear. I can admit that I enjoyed it for its cast and the Russo Brothers' direction on the action sequences. Those were the main reasons I didn't execute the movie sooner than expected. However, I can also admit that its screenplay, dialogue, and pacing weren't as exciting as its explosive thrills. If you're in the mood for some popcorn entertainment and don't care much about the story, I would say this film should satisfy your spy-related needs. Otherwise, you're better off going rogue yourself.