The Gray Man

The Gray Man
The Gray Man
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Ryan Gosling hasn’t been cast in a superhero franchise (yet), but he gets closer than ever before in the mega-budget Netflix release “The Gray Man,” the streaming service’s summer blockbuster from Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors of “Avengers: Endgame.” There are reasons why Gosling would do this and why Netflix would open not just their wallet but an entire bank vault for that matter so the Russos can adapt author Mark Greaney’s book for a chance to start their own mega-franchise. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that Netflix has far too little creative oversight over these types of projects and merely hands them a checkbook without any real concern over what they produce. Because it fits the algorithm after all, doesn’t it? Millions will watch “The Grey Man”. But there won’t be anything memorable about it in two days’ time.

If this does turn out to be the beginning of a new series – and most likely it is – we should expect that future episodes of “The Gray Man” will have some more clarity.

The lead actor from ‘La La Land’ as well as ‘Drive’ appears as a spy called Sierra Six (“007 was taken”), who was selected out of jail by his handler named Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton). After mere moments establishing such facts, “The Gray Man” dives straight into action with Six being directed by his new boss Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page) at taking out someone who turns out to be another secret agent. The dying man tells Six that Denny is a bad guy before handing him the intel to prove it. Next thing you know our stoic hero is running away long before he’s even had time to become someone we care about in movies. Empty protagonist like this one might work fine for tightly plotted thrillers such as those seen in John Wick films, but this isn’t one of those movies at all. It needed an Ethan Hunt, a character that exists outside of the tired platitudes he won’t shoot a child and has a dark past. Seriously, can you describe five things about this hero that were supposed to keep our attention for two hours? That’s never a good sign.

Carmichael brings in Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), a former CIA black ops mercenary who now works as a private contractor where there are “fewer rules about shit like torturing people and having shitty-ass mustached tummies”. Hansen is ready to do anything, including taking Claire Fitzroy (Julia Butters), Donald’s daughter hostage just to attract Six’s attention. Of course, while he had been watching over her some years back now, Six feels something for Claire. He is the spy who cares whether children live or die which makes him different from someone like Hansen who is nothing but a sociopath. Meanwhile, another spy named Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) joins Six on his quest for freedom – and believe it or not she has even fewer attributes than any of her male colleagues.

That’s it for two hours, and that is all. Good guy, bad guy, woman in the middle, kid in jeopardy, things go boom. Though some action sequences such as an insane one in a town square may work well enough to get you excited, most of this film is shot at such a strangely dim light that it also dulls the incredible screen presence of Gosling, Evans and de Armas who are undeniably charismatic. I mean come on; what idiot thought ‘Ozark’ was the appropriate lighting scheme for almost an entire men-on-a-mission flick? ‘The Gray Man’ needs to be a joyously over-the-top new Fast & Furious or Bourne franchise but save for Evan’s smartass remarks this film is just so unfailingly predictable. It’s stupid popcorn entertainment which too often forgets that this sort of project needs to be fun.

Evans being set up as an interesting threat is part of the problem. He actually appears quite terrible at his job—a coworker tells us that an asset removal gone horribly wrong and causing a sensational media frenzy will be used as a case study for what not to do. This isn’t so much about two spies challenging each other so much as good vs crazy spy. There seems to be something underdeveloped about Gosling being the old-fashioned spy and Evans is just brute force modern maniac whose tactic looks like he wants to blow up everything nearby but Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely’s script keeps trying to make us believe Hansen’s a brilliant psycho without any real evidence.

“The Gray Man” like so much new original content on streaming platforms fears taking any genuine risk at all. The algorithms seem dominant over human beings when it comes to creative decisions, making many articles written about them feel like they’re driven by math equations rather than actual people. But when will Netflix shell out $200 million for something akin to “John Wick,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” or even a “Fast Five”? It may take a real-life superhero for that to change.

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