Quid pro quo. The Russo Brothers understand the concept when it comes to making movies. By helping Marvel successfully land their Infinity Saga, they built up a lot of clout and equity if they wanted to make something else. The brothers cashed in a chunk of their chips with The Gray Man, their version of a James Bond film. Does that mean its better than a real James Bond film? Depends on which Bond you’re talking about.
Six (Ryan Gosling), a no named familyless convict, is given new life by Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), a CIA higher-up who sees Six as a perfect fit for his new Sierra program. Six excels, and becomes one of the top agents in the government. On a hit job in Bangkok working with CIA Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), Six is supposed to take out a target (Callan Mulvey) selling security secrets. But on this mission, Six disobeys direct orders from CIA rising “stars” Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page) and Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick), forcing him to go on the run. Desperate, Carmichael turns to Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), the guy you turn to when you need “moral ambiguity,” to hunt down Six and figure out why he went rogue…by any means necessary.
The Gray Man hopefully shows Netflix learned at least a little something from the dumpster fire that was Red Notice. Instead of blindly casting big stars to be funny, instead, cast people who have proven to be actually funny first and are also stars. Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas, have proven in their funnier films they know how extract as much as they can out of the script. So even when The Gray Man is breezing through plot at the expense of character development, these 3 leads know how to at least make the movie kinda fun to quip the audience through, especially Evans, having a ball playing one of the most vile people on Earth. Also, the filler characters around our 3 leads are top notch quality talent themselves like Billy Bob, Alfre Woodard, Bridgerton’s Page, Comic con queen Henwick, and Indian star Dhanush (maybe the most interesting because he says the least). Those actors commitment to The Gray Man certainly elevate the story when maybe it should falter more, basically meaning they make the movie more fun and watchable.
And most importantly, the rest of the budget was spent on some well designed globe hopping action sequences. Six takes us across multiple continents, cities, and locales of all types, and the Russo’s mix up the action set pieces to keep things interesting. It’s a smorgasbord of battle: planes, trains and automobiles all get moments; we’ve got guns of all types, fireworks, grenade launchers, and bazookas make cameos, some set to generic action music, some set to some sweet vinyl tunes of Mark Lindsay. We’re in big cities, we’re in island castles, and we’re in creepy Viennese basements. We’ve got it all, for the low price of a Netflix subscription! The best of these sequences show the innovation of Six as he MacGyver’s his way out of harm, or the badassery of other characters like Dhanush or de Armas in all their star power. Even not great spy movies are great travelogues showing off some cool gadgets with hot people, and The Gray Man meets that threshold and then some.
Yes there are times when The Gray Man feels like leftovers, but at least it’s the leftovers of that 5 star restaurant you ate at last night. If you need a breezy escape that’s kinda funny, you could do worse that to hang out with Evans, de Armas, and Gosling. Did I mention Gosling gets shirtless here too? Now that’s 5 star restaurant man meat for sure!