The Gray Man blends together a bunch of popular action franchises (Bond, Bourne, Mission Impossible), resulting in a kind of beige, lifeless slurry. Directed by the Russo brothers (Avengers: Endgame), this $200-million action thriller features an all-star cast playing paper-thin stock characters, caught in a whirlwind of derivative action sequences with distractingly incompetent lighting. Fittingly, this movie is as characterless as its title.
Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo
The creative team behind ‘Avengers: Endgame’ utilize a $200-million budget to pay for A-list stars and wannabe ‘Mission Impossible’ action sequences, sadly resulting in very little entertainment value.
Ryan Gosling stars as Sierra Six, a felon-turned-CIA-assassin who stands apart from his colleagues because he follows a moral code (i.e. refusing to kill kids). Chris Evans plays the villain, a sadistic former agent who chases Six across the globe. While Gosling is giving it maybe 50% (in fairness, his character truly has no personality), Evans channels his Knives Out performance as an amusingly repulsive asshole. In a less-terrible film, he’d be quite fun to watch.
In the secondary cast, we have a slew of familiar faces playing various generic spies and mercenaries. The most I can say for Ana de Armas (through no fault of her own) is that she gets a lot of screentime, although Jessica Henwick and Tamil star Dhanush do inject some life into their roles.
You can tell this movie is going to be a slog within the first 90 seconds, when Billy Bob Thornton delivers a paint-by-numbers recruitment speech to an incarcerated Sierra Six. The scene as a whole is pure, unleavened exposition. The characterization is so bland it saps the energy out of beloved movie stars. And the lighting is oppressively flat and murky—a familiar problem from the Russo era of the MCU. Most of The Gray Man is either filmed in a haze of smoke or looks like you’re watching it through tinted shades.
Speaking of Marvel, this isn’t just a reunion between the Russos and Captain America, it’s also another collaboration with MCU screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Dispensing with the humor and likeability of the Avengers, they deliver a script so formulaic it may as well be generated by an algorithm.
Movies like The Gray Man live or die on their action sequences. Sure, the concept is unoriginal—a man on the run, some evil mercenaries, a kidnapped girl—but no one watches these movies for the plot. We’re here for fight scenes and car chases… which in this case are disappointingly mediocre.
Several chase scenes feel like cheap Jason Bourne ripoffs, failing to elicit any sense of danger. A nightclub sequence compares poorly to John Wick, suffering from choppy editing and low-contrast lighting. We visit dozens of international locations, all filmed in the same monotonous, unglamorous fashion. There’s even a parachute scene where the background music briefly hints at the Mission Impossible theme; a tragic self-own because Ryan Gosling is clearly flailing in front of a green screen, whereas Tom Cruise (as we all know!) jumps out of those damn planes himself.
The Gray Man’s utter charmlessness makes it clear that without the power of Marvel behind them, the Russos have nothing left in the tank. You can’t be a champion of accessible mainstream entertainment when your movies are no longer entertaining.