I was an hour into “The Gray Man” on Netflix and realized I couldn’t leave, I was in my own home. I could not walk out of the theater in disgust. So I stayed.
Anthony and Joe Russo and their screenwriters are responsible for a bunch of high budget big hit Marvel movies. In those outings you don’t really mind if things don’t make sense. That’s part of the charm because, in the end, you’re looking for pre-established characters, the super heroes, to carry you to the end.
There’s nothing wrong with the central trio of “The Gray Man.” Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, and Chris Evans are charming and likeable. We are happy to see Alfre Woodward and Billy Bob Thornton. But where can we go from there?
“The Gray Man” is bloated like a water bug. It’s interminable and inexcusable. The official budget is $200 million, a record for Netflix, but you can tell it’s more. The whole movie is more and more and more: more explosions, more fireworks, more shooting, more bullets. The Russo’s didn’t care how preposterous this became. I think they got lost in their own mythology.
It’s a simple story: Gosling’s Six is a criminal freed from jail by the CIA to become a hit man. His first hit is another CIA agent in their unique squad. That man, Four, tells him everyone is corrupt and gives him secret files on USB plug ins. (These USB sticks have become the microfilm of modern spy movies.)
Six kills his prey, realizes he’s been set up, and is on the run. Ana de Armas is a beautiful spy pal named Dani who’s sympathetic to him as they are hunted by an evil rogue named Lloyd — Chris Evans — working for the CIA. He’s out to kill Six and grab back the files even if it means blowing up all of Europe. No amount of money will be spared.
And none was, obviously. The locations, effects, lighting, all of it is off the charts excessive. It takes the place of story, character development, and dialogue. The latter, by the way, feels like it was written by or for 13 year olds. It’s coarse, vulgar, and stupid. It’s glib for no reason. The Russo’s couldn’t figure out if this was a comic book movie like “Deadpool” or a serious spy movie. They try for the jocularity of a James Bond film and miss by miles.
As with most spectacular failures, “The Gray Man” is a sad case of what could have been. Gosling is a movie star and a very good actor, he deserved better. You can see him trying to sell very shabby goods as something smarter. Armas doesn’t get to show off her skills from “Knives Out.” Evans is adrift trying to make sense of Lloyd’s mustache twirling. I’d say they all chew the scenery, but there’s not much to sink their teeth into storywise. Then “The Gray Man” just becomes a movie about running, driving, and ducking.
There was some talk that this was the beginning of a franchise. If “The Gray Man” really played in theaters it would be a huge flop and no one would suggest such a thing. Because it’s on Netflix, where success isn’t measured in public, it’s possible more of this will be ordered. Please, no. Stop, now. Let the Russos get back to comic books and these actors return to films.