Talk about a great action duo! Ryan Gosling versus Chris Evans; the Blade Runner VS. Captain America. This is the kind of action rivalry we don’t get much these days, at least not since the Face/Off in 1997, when John Travolta and Nicolas Cage made it so great. It was only a matter of time before we got a good action flick with Gosling, as he was born to be an action star since his ground-breaking participation in the movie Drive. He was a little quiet recently, so is this officially his big debut? Hard to say at this point, but the legacy of this movie will tell us.
As it is directed by the now iconic Joe and Anthony Russo, the siblings behind Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, there was hype around this flick for some time now. Based on the espionage book by former Tom Clancy collaborator, Mark Greaney and with Netflix’s biggest budget for an original movie ($200 million US) that helped pay for a top cast, does The Gray Man fulfill its promises? I would say ‘kinda’, even though it does not lack ambition.
The premise of The Gray Man is that there are ex-criminals rotting in jail that are recruited and trained by the CIA to join what they call the ‘Sierra Program’. These men and women are contracted by the government to actually do their bidding ‘off the books’ as a black ops team. Here is Court Gentry, known as Sierra Six, (Ryan Gosling, in prime shape), one of those agents sent on a mission to Bangkok by his current superior (René-Jean Page) in order to assassinate a ‘bad guy’. Turns out this man is actually Sierra Four, one of his colleagues with damaging information on his CIA superiors. Sierra Six takes this information and decides to flee. In desperate need of this leaked information, the CIA will recruit Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans, a very absurd, but entertaining character), an ex-Sierra agent who is now a contract killer, to hunt down and kill Six across Europe.
As the action scenes will show us, Court Gentry is a skilled operative and was once the agency’s best merchant of death. Having been recruited by former handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), Gentry is now on the run from the CIA with agent Hansen hot on his trail. Aided by Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), Hansen will stop at nothing to bring Gentry down.
Michael Bay Meets Baz Luhrmann
Everything about this movie was quite promising at first, but I’m sad to say that The Gray Man is okay at best, but not great. Two major things jump in our faces during the runtime, one being the CGI fest. There is a significant lack of practical effects for the action scenes and the set pieces, making all of this hard to appreciate or even believe. Although I quite enjoyed the extreme color palets, especially in the opening mission setting in Bangkok, there was a big use of smoke all over the action scenes in the first half, making it hard to see what was happening. This is where the spectacle reminded me of a Baz Luhrmann movie, but poorly executed.
The other key element is the overabundance of parody and jokes. Although we can expect humour from the duo that brought us the latest Avengers movies, it is quite frankly impossible to take the plot, the action and the characters seriously. This is where I felt that I was perhaps watching a Michael Bay movie, as childish humour was all over the place, pasted on a ton of special effects and weirdly choreographed action. The books feel like the lovechild of the Bourne franchise meets John Wick and fans hoping to have that stylistic crossover will be disappointed.
In terms of acting, none of the actors really shine in this; Gosling has his usual stoïc charisma that fails to surprise us and Ana de Armas’s character is pretty flat, making it pretty hard to care for them. Same for pretty much everyone in the film, as we lack backstory and details on a few relationships here and there (why X knows Y and why is it important for the story). The real jewel here is Chris Evans as Lloyd, one of the main antagonists of the film. His sociopath bounty hunter for the CIA is hardly believable, but oh so entertaining. All his lines are delivered with a tongue in cheek, an immediate scene-stealer every time. Hands down the best action scene in the whole film is the bloody final duel between Six and Hansen, so stick until the end to enjoy it.
One last thing….this is a minor offense, but is too apparent not to mention. While product placements and brand sponsorships in big blockbuster films are still a thing today (one can only think of BMW’s partnership with the Mission: Impossible franchise), too much is too much. When every single character, scattered all over the globe, all drive an Audi as an escape vehicle, you might find this hard to believe. Again, another that fails to add realism to the whole story.
The Moment of Truth for Netflix?
The success or failure of The Gray Man might very well be a moment of truth for Netflix as a giant streamer. Considering the latest subscribers drop debacle and the company’s poor performance on the stock market lately, it needs to stand its ground as the platform that can deliver good big-budget entertainment produced in-house. There is a saying about modern action films that they have a ‘Netflix feel’ to them, which is not a compliment; they refer to cheap thrills and poor writing. Although it is the home of Bridgerton, Stranger Things, The Crown and other binge TV phenomenons, can Netflix still rival with the likes of Disney+, Prime Video and HBO Max to deliver quality thrills and well-directed productions? If this movie fails to remain in the Top 10 for long, they might need to rethink their strategy.
There is an open ending to The Gray Man, so a sequel is still a possibility at this point. Let’s see what happens.
Final Grade: 6.5/10