Have you ever seen a movie so forgettable that you almost completely forget you even saw the film? If the Russos are proving one thing, they’re yet to have an identifying stamp outside of the MCU. The Gray Man is a spy flick similar to any espionage movie you may have seen since the dawn of man. There’s not much to talk about with this film other than the stunts, which, although impressive, don’t entirely blow me away next to action pictures like John Wick or the Russo’s previous action film, Extraction.
Slightly less generic than this film, Extraction had its ace up its sleeve with its long take sequence. The scene goes from a car chase to a shootout to a gunfight, all in one go, emphasizing how utterly exhausting it must be for Chris Hemsworth’s character to push forward. Some may call it a gimmick; I call it building character through action. Even without the long take, there’s enough grit to make Extraction stand out from a typical Red Box flick.
Nothing within a million miles discerns The Grey Man from something on Tubi starring Steven Segal. To give you an idea of how bland the movie is, let me explain the plot: The Gray Man is Ryan Gosling playing a CIA Operative who goes by the codename Six. To pull Six from incarceration is Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thorton). Fitzroy gives Six the news that a cohort of the CIA is out for his head. The reason Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) is so hellbent on terminating Six is unclear. I think it’s for money? Either way, the story isn’t essential; it’s the action that matters, right?
Surprisingly, the action is almost as forgettable as the story. Although there’s enough coordination to make out what’s happening, the geographical dynamics of the combat are bland. The gunfights, car chases, and knuckle brawls combine shaky Jason Bourne cinematography with tripod or Steadicam mounted scenes. The mixture of action styles doesn’t blend at all, robbing Gray Man of the distinction Extraction or Captain America: Civil War had.
That’s baffling since the action was fantastic in Extraction and the Avengers films. Well, maybe not always in the Avengers films. But when they worked, they shined. In the Avengers case, the story mattered more than the action. If a similarity to Marvel’s past is present in Extraction, it’s the corny jokes and flat usage of color. No longer under the guidance of having to maintain visual continuity across close to thirty films, the Russos are free to go wild with the color. Yet, the image is muddy, and underexposed. Sometimes, so dim, I had trouble making out who was shooting at Ryan Gosling from where by the third act’s big setpiece.
If any personality could be prevalent in the film, it should be through its characters. Good luck finding that here. Each actor seems to be reprising a role they played in a better movie. Yet they’ll do this one because it’s the Russos. Ryan Gosling is supposed to be an emotionless killing machine who’s a good man on the inside. Although a replicant, Gosling played the wooden, wounded role to perfection in Blade Runner 2049. Chris Evans can’t dial in the diabolical nature he had as sleezebag in Iceman or a condescending, brilliant brat in Knives Out. Evans tries to combine both roles in a way where he’s not only humorous but also dangerous. Neither midpoint in personas works as it comes across as Captain America putting on a mean face.
The few minutes of screen-time Ana de Armas had in No Time To Die left a grander impression than the extended screen time she gets as Dani Miranda, who seems to be a casting decision made out of “you see audience? You get more of her now!” Great, now give her something more interesting to do. Lastly, Billy Bob Thorton plays the tough-talking boy from the south who works for the government in several Michael Bay or early 2000s films once more. Billy Bob merely exists to present exposition.
The Gray Man may be proving the Russo’s slow descent from relevancy. Despite it’s incredible action; Extraction doesn’t go far in the story department. When tackling heavy drama with drug addiction, Cherry fell to the conventions of the Requiem For A Dream and Basketball Diaries it wants to be. With a large pocket of impressive action flicks to back them, why both story and action are mishandled reflects a film missing character.
As revered as the MCU is, Disney isn’t the best at promoting a filmmaker’s vision. Disney doesn’t acquire Richard Donner, Matt Reeves, Tim Burton, or Christopher Nolan. Any semblance of auteurism is left for table scraps for the directors to trickle nibble on. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can film your final fight in black and white or turn the protagonist into a zombie. Maybe the Russo’s were the rent-a-directors Kevin Feige needed to puppeteer. Let’s hope they can prove me wrong in the near future.