After making Avengers: Endgame – the highest-grossing film of all time, until Avatar reclaimed that title – directors Joe and Anthony Russo were in a position to do whatever they want, whether it was producing more comic book adaptations like the short-lived Deadly Class or directing Apple TV+’s Cherry, which got a mixed response. During their time at another streaming service, Netflix, the Russos have produced the Chris Hemsworth-starred Extraction, along with its upcoming sequel and now their next directorial feature might set up another action franchise for the service.
Based on the first of a series of books by Mark Greaney, The Gray Man centers on the CIA’s most skilled mercenary, Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling), who accidentally uncovers dark agency secrets, making him a primary target and is hunted around the world by the psychopathic Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) and international assassins.
Considering the number of spy-based media, whether it is the sexiness of James Bond or the death-defying stunts of Mission: Impossible, The Gray Man has more in common with Jason Bourne, in terms of presenting the world of spies as one of deception and conspiracies. And although Agent Six isn’t stricken with amnesia, which was the central hook of the Bourne series, this is a character whose backstory is revealed through flashbacks.
However, attempts of deep characterization are secondary and even with the personal angle that drives Six to save the day, the film’s first priority is to be a cat-and-mouse chase with a heavy dose of action. More Winter Soldier than Infinity War, the Russos are relying less on CGI and more on the practical stunt work where the gunfire is loud and you can feel the bruising that the characters are going through during the hard-fitting fight sequences. As bruise-tastic as the action is, it is nicely contrasted with the exotic locations that stunningly shot by cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, most notably the Bangkok opening set-piece.
While it’s not reinventing the spy genre and revels too hard on the cliches, including a minor antagonist who is really good at killing but is all about honor, there is a playfulness in how the film conveys those tropes, which largely comes down to the performances. Though Ryan Gosling delivers a subdued performance that has plenty of deadpan one-liners, it is his co-star Chris Evans (and his mustache), having the most fun as a psychopathic villain who brings a lot of humor, even when doing the most terrible things. As for Ana de Armas, there wasn’t a lot to her character, but she truly shines when thrown into the action, especially when running around with a rocket launcher during the climax.
The Gray Man premieres on Netflix July 22
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