When your last couple of movies were Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, two of the largest movies in cinema history, what can you possibly do to in order to follow it up? Well, if you’re the Russo Brothers, you apparently make a beeline for a streaming service and get to cough up an exorbitant amount of money to make a spy movie.
It’s an out of left field choice to be sure, but not entirely one that without reason; you see as cinema still attempts to shake off the effects of a global pandemic, movies that aren’t part of a gargantuan franchise or some kind of legacy sequel have more chance of gathering a sizable audience if they cast their net on one of the more prominent streaming services out there. Hence what we have now is The Gray Man, an action/spy flick based from the series of novels from Tom Clancy collaborator Mark Greaney that began in 2009 and that I can safely say I’ve never heard of – but a pre-existing knowledge of a literary character isn’t the chief obstacle here; can the blockbuster brothers turn in an orginal Netflix action movie that isn’t overwhelmingly mid?
Recruited from prison back in the early 2000’s by luxuriously bearded CIA official Donald Fitzroy, an inmate serving time for murder is released, trained in the exquisite art of making America’s enemies extinct and is renamed Sierra Six; however, after a nimble leap to the present day we find out two things: the Sierra program has suffered numerous burnouts from most of it’s highly strung operatives and Six is far more respectful of human life than his handlers would like.
After a mission in Bangkok goes spectacularly north directly because Six won’t nuke a room with a child in it, the government assassin finds himself a target of his own people when the man he’s been ordered to annihilate turns out to be a rogue Sierra with an encrypted drive on his person just loaded with juicy details concerning the impressive corruption of one Denny Carmichael, the CIA official whi is running this very operation. With the reluctant help of fellow CIA agent Dani Miranda, Six manages to bug out of Bangkok and kick into motion a desperate chase that sweeps across more of the globe than Rand McNally, as, in an attempt to get the drive back, Carmichael brings in notoriously looney tunes mercenary Lloyd Hansen to lead the search and destroy mission to take down his target. Leaning into his impressively sociopathic tendencies, Lloyd not only causes vast swathes of destruction wherever he goes, but also tortures the retired Fitzroy and kidnaps his niece, Claire, as leverage – but the fact that Six has a relationship with Claire might have only made Lloyd’s job harder…
As the rubble piles up and Lloyd’s handlers tears their hair out as his methods get ever more heavy handed, Six utilises his impressive skills in shrugging off virtually every attack to get ever closer to his goal…
You have to give Netflix props for sinking so much time and money into a string of slick actioners in an attempt to hang with theatrical releases, but you have to question the spending of $200 million dollars on something that, in all honesty, will mostly be viewed on a tablet the size of a dinner plate and as a result, something feels weirdly missing from, what should have been a home run of an action extravaganza.
You certainly can’t sneeze at the cast as the likes of Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas and Billy Bob Thornton who obviously are all enjoying wrapping their respective chops around endlessly cool lines and glib comebacks, but the problem is that is even though every character gets to lash out with comebacks just as dangerous as the weaponry they continuously fire at one another, the film continuously neglects to give us a reason to care. Gosling can play a droll, charismatic killer in his sleep, but Six needs just a little more than the actor’s soulful eyes and an attachment to his employer’s niece to make us care for him simply beyond the fact that he’s the good guy. Similarly, Ana de Armas charscter is also purely dictated by her ability to break bones and deliver a withering put down and it seems like somewhat of a waste when compared to her how much fun her character from No Time To Die was, but elsewhere, more fun is to be had to be had with Evans’ uber-bastard who swans around the film dressing like a 1960’s sex offender while smirking from beneath one of the most odious moustaches in recent memory.
The real issue here is that for all its attempts at maintaining a sense of swaggering cool and staging some truly huge action, The Gray Man has quite the impressively colourless plot that’s almost insultingly derivative when you consider the sheer weight of talent involved – in fact for a film that includes the directors, scriptwriters, composer and star of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (a truly kickass example of a modern, overblown, super-spy movie), I couldn’t help but be somewhat let down by a flick that really should have been much more than just some spicy dialogue and cool explosions.
However, on the subject of those cool explosions, The Gray Man over achieves on scale even if those massive, action sequences carry a surprising lack of lasting impact – still, a massive mid-film firefight that spills into an even bigger team crash that threatens to level more of Berlin than the Russo’s previously did in Captain America: Civil War and a slick but brutal finale caps things off satisfyingly, but there’s nothing here that tops The Winter Soldier’s slightly smaller but more perfectly formed set pieces despite the fact that the Russo’s seem to have swiped Michael Bay’s hyperactive drone cams from Ambulance to stomach flipping effect.
It’ll get views, no doubt and maybe even sequels and spin offs (Dhanush’s honorable, hard hitting henchman is screaming for a solo op), but this is once again another example of an action packed Netflix blockbuster popping out of the metaphorical oven feeling slightly half-baked and while The Gray Man certainly isn’t a bad movie per say, I was certainly expecting it to leave way more of a mark than this. Instead, much like it’s namesake, this vastly expensive, all star thriller, frustratingly fades into the background.