The Russo Brothers (Joe and Anthony) had some big expectations after they’re back-to-back success of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers:Endgame. I’d argue they basically boosted abilities of the MCU with their hit films Captain America: The Winter Soldier (the best so far) and Captain America: Civil War (which seemed like a pseudo-Avengers movie). They weren’t just superhero comic book movies. They had edge of your seat plots and three-dimensional characters.
So, what do you do for an encore? They did the movie Cherry, a crime drama for Apple TV that didn’t get a lot of good reviews. Now, theyve made The Gray Man, released recently on Netflix. For what it’s worth, the movie is your typical action movie that would average around two and a half stars from the vast majority of film critics. It’s not bad. It’s so-so good, but it’s one of those movies where you can sense the action scenes were the main focus rather than characters. And I’ll be blunt here. Ever since the Bourne and John Wick movies, the whole format is getting a little old.
Two or more characters get into a fight and you can see it’s going to be a lot of quick punches, fast dodges and kicks as they spin around each other, flipping over tables and chairs and going horizontal using their feet on the wall as someone has them in a headlock as they can punch them in the knee caps and then find a gun that has ammo to shot someone in the head or the chest. Repeat action for the next 10 minutes. Despite its PG-13 rating, The Gray Man seems more violent and I feel that the powers that be toned some stuff down in post-production so the younger audiences could enjoy it.
But like I said, they’ve seen this movie before. We’ve had three John Wick movies with a fourth on the way. There have been five Bourne movies. The Russos were also involved in writing and producing Extraction and there’s a second one in the works. There’s Kate, Gunpowder Milkshake, Jolt, Nobody, the Kingsmen movies, the Oldboy remake, etc. Time and time again, we’ve seen this movie over and over that I feel that may be why it stayed in development hell for about a decade.
Ryan Gosling plays a convicted criminal who is approached by CIA official Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to be a “gray man” under the name “Sierra Six.” Six is in prison for killing his abusive father (Shea Whigman because that’s the only roles he plays now) and Fitzroy feels this young criminal would make a perfect assassin. Cut to 18 years later and Six is on assignment in Bangkok and must kill a target who is selling national security information on the black market because they’re always selling national security on the black market in these movies. Six is being aided along with CIA agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) when he attacks and mortally wounds the target who claims he was “Sierra Four” and hands him an encrypted drive of a corrupt rising CIA official Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page).
I was almost expecting there to be some type of twist. Why is the target always someone who is connected in some way to the main character. And there’s a MacGuffin they always are in position of. And there’s always someone who is supposed to be a good guy for the government who is a bad guy. I will say in the first half hour, the location changes so many times with the same huge font on screen letting us know a scene is in Bangkok, Langley or Baku like what was on the TV show Mindhunter. The Russos used this as a good joke in Infinity War where we see outer space and screen shows SPACE.
Carmichael learning that Six has the drive notifies a former CIA agent turned bloodthirsty mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans in a bad guy role with a pedo pornsauche) to track Six down and kill him and get the encrypted drive. At the same time, Carmichael has ordered Fitzroy’s niece, Claire (Julia Butters) to be kidnapped in order to make Fitzroy, Six’s handler, order his murder. So, this means, it’s sent to bring Six in dead or alive and a lot of people are after him. So, you know what happens next? Six is on his way to rescue Claire and his mentor, Fitzroy, while being aided by Dani who is a spy but feels the CIA isn’t working in the best interest as they have a psychopathic person like Hansen willing to kill anyone in the way to accomplish his task.
And a lot of things go boom!
People have made the comparisons to Spy vs. Spy, that series of comics that existed in MAD magazine, but it’s a let down. Having Gosling and Evans duke it out in the finale should’ve been the Pacino-DeNiro moment in Heat. But there’s a problem. Evans is just too over the top. It’s his first really bad guy role since his role as a hitman in The Iceman in 2012. He’s too much of a caricature. There’s never any really scene or indication he’s as good as he thinks he is.
And Gosling’s assassin with a heart of gold has been done before. Six also has a special connection to Claire who had a prior history of medical problems and Six was there to rush her to the hospital when she was on the brink of death. So, you know this is more than clearing his name. But when Carmichael sends out all the information to bring Six in, ala John Wick, it’s going to leave a whole of destruction in the wake. How in the world does Carmichael think he’s going to slide this under the rug especially during a MCU-style of city destruction that would make headlines and go viral before someone has a time to reload their weapons.
The saddest part of this movie is how underused de Armas is. She is basically one of the most popular, hottest stars right now and she’s reduced into what is a glorified sidekick role. She pops up on screen whenever it’s convenient than goes away. Her character is so underwritten you know there’s no real threat to what happens to her. She’s going to survive. The other character underused is Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick), a mid-level CIA official, who functions as the Boo Boo to Carmichael’s Yogi Bear. Every line of dialogue seems to be her saying how she can’t believe this is happening and doesn’t know how they’re going to get away with it. I almost expected her to say, “I don’t think the Ranger is going to like this.”
What’s worse is the ending just screams “sequel.” This movie is based on a book by the same name by Mark Grearny and it’s the first novel to feature this character. Something tells me we’ll be seeing Gosling return as Six in the near future, quite possibly with another MCU actor as the villain the next time. Maybe in the second one, they can come up with a better script. Don’t get me wrong, I like the action sequences and I like Evans and de Armas and Gosling to an extent.
However, this is like action porno. The whole assassin on the run with a heart of gold trying to make right is the equivalent of a pizza delivery guy dropping off a extra-large sausage.
What do you think? Please comment.