Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo have quite a history together. This writer-director quartet has teamed up to make a few small films, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. Following their smashing Marvel success, these four are teaming back up to make The Gray Man, a globetrotting $200 million action thriller based on Mark Greaney’s novel. Netflix has gathered some of the most attractive faces in Hollywood for a high-octane action movie that pulls no punches while suffering in the story and character department.
This is a Russo brothers movie, and it’s not hard to tell. If the MCU showed us anything, it’s that the Russos know how to impeccably handle fight scenes, chases, and shootouts. Two things will drive audiences to move this film onto their Netflix queue. The first is the action, all of which is filmed very well. The Russos know when to use wide shots and closeups to create dazzling, thrilling action that works wonders, and the stunt work on display is phenomenal as usual.
Parts of this movie feel reminiscent of the gritty thrills from their Captain America films, while other parts feel like the film is trying to emulate the neon color palette of John Wick. The movie has vibrant hues with colorful smoke and fireworks, but can still feel desaturated and visually flat at times. Even Netflix’s lower-budget action films, such as last year’s Gunpowder Milkshake and Kate, have a more appealing cinematic aesthetic than this film, which wants to look great but never quite gets there. But with non-stop action and a breakneck pace, this movie seeks to entertain, and it does an excellent job of that.
But the second reason Netflix subscribers will eat this movie up is the three movie stars at the head of the film. Ryan Gosling plays Six, a CIA black ops mercenary forced to go on the run. His first role in four years after 2018’s First Man is a display of his versatility as he entirely sells himself as an action hero — though the movie never showcases his Oscar-nominated acting ability. Chris Evans reunites with the Russos as a character that couldn’t be more different than Captain America. Equipped with an a-hole mustache, Lloyd Hansen is Six’s psychopathic former colleague who is more than ready to hunt him down. Evans is effortlessly charming, back in his pre-Stars-and-Stripes element of playing scoundrels. Gosling and Evans are two handsome faces who work magic together as archenemies.
Ana de Armas reunites with her co-stars from Blade Runner 2049 and Knives Out in this film as Dani Miranda, who helps Six with his mission. While de Armas is an excellent actress, she, like Gosling, never gets the chance to shine in this movie. She’s one-dimensional for most of the film, and the direction never allows for her to display the charisma she had in No Time to Die. This movie feels most reminiscent of 2021’s Red Notice — another case of Netflix uniting three attractive movie stars for a $200 million action film that people will watch and forget about soon after the credits roll due to the lack of ingenuity in the screenplay.
The Gray Man has the star power, the budget, and the crew to be one of the most thrilling theatrical experiences of the summer. However, Netflix’s streaming release format feels like a more comforting fit for the final product: an exciting action movie with an awe-inspiring train sequence and a script that does nothing interesting. It takes an hour and a half for Six to have any backstory, and even then, it is barely used in a meaningful way. The story is a disposable excuse for action sequences, and the Russos’ direction is excellent whenever they pull back. However, their flashier drone shots can distract from the film, much like their style could in Cherry. It’s a film that gets no points for realism, but a lot of points for the turn-your-brain-off background noise that’s worth tuning in for every once in a while.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to “Decent.” It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience.
Disclosure: The critic watched a press screener for ComingSoon’s The Gray Man review.