The Gray Man: Review
A convict-turned-government agent becomes the target of an unhinged bounty hunter in The Gray Man. The latest Netflix big-budget tentpole is their most expensive yet, charting a globe-trotting espionage yarn embedded in several familiar film staples. Think the spy intrigue of Jason Bourne meets the machismo energy of an old-school 80s action movie.
The Gray Man also marks another step away from the Marvel brand for Anthony and Joe Russo. After steering the historic success of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame, the duo struggled out of the gate in their overbaked award hopeful Cherry. Their struggles unfortunately continue with The Gray Man – an insipid spy thriller that confuses big-budget spectacle for an engaging experience.
Ironically enough for a spy feature, The Gray Man constantly remains an enigma to its audience. Joe Russo and Marvel staples Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely collaborate on a lifeless screenplay that never finds its rhythm. Tonally, the writing jumps between the hard-wired realism of a gritty spy feature and the cheeky goofiness of a summer blockbuster.
I don’t think the trio pulls off either sensibility effectively. They spend most of the screentime spouting useless plot jargon and flat one-liners as a substitute for an arresting personality. If you did not like the Russo comedic sensibility in the Marvel films, you’re likely in for a grueling experience with the number of ineffective gags forced throughout. The narrative is also as generic as it gets – rarely stretching past the safe confines of routine spy mechanics. There are also brief moments where the film touches upon government malpractice and bureaucracy’s kill-now-ask-for-answers-later mindset, but these frames are too thankless to register an actual impression.
The focus on by-the-numbers plotting leaves The Gray Man’s characters (and cast) in the dust. Master spy Six and the blood-thirsty contract killer Lloyd Hansen are supposed to serve as a compelling rival duo. Instead, the two wallow as flat, one-dimensional caricatures given little purpose aside from a lust for bloodshed (attempts at making Six more affectionate receive little attention). Not even the subdued charisma of Ryan Gosling or the snarky charm of Chris Evans enriches the bland action figures who rarely pop off the screen. Ana de Armas, Jesse Henwick, and Regé-Jean Page also receive little purpose outside of standing around and looking self-serious. It’s frustrating seeing an acclaimed cast wasted in uninteresting material that lies far below their talents.
The Russos’ directorial efforts feel equally unfulfilling. I at least credit the duo for embracing a grandiose scale in their latest big-budget effort. Aside from a few laughably CGI-driven setpieces, The Gray Man delivers the type of alluring spectacle Netflix is desperately vying to provide. Roaring bike car chases and close-quarters shootouts are all captured with a steady hand by the directors as the film offers enough variety in its explosive setpieces.
At the same time, The Gray Man presents a restrained and unimaginative visceral profile. Several frames are well-composed and dramatically lit, yet these moments rarely come to life in a film that progresses without significant momentum. The Russos struggle mightily in unearthing the nail-biting tension or evocative mood that an enthralling spy piece should develop. An inclusion of cheap stylistic gimmicks, like several sloppily executed drone shots and green screen backdrops, only cheapens the attempts at an atmospheric approach. Additionally, I don’t understand why several blockbusters continue embracing a washed-out color scheme. Why drain the appeals of a 200-million dollar movie with scenes mucked in flavorless aesthetics?
The Gray Man is serviceable enough for viewers looking for a few blockbuster jolts, but I could never get past the film’s voiceless final product. Like a poorly drawn imitation, the film rests in the shadow of the superior films it aspires to build upon.
The Gray Man is now playing in select theaters before releasing on Netflix on July 22.