“When the CIA’s most skilled operative-whose true identity is known to none-accidentally uncovers dark agency secrets, a psychopathic former colleague puts a bounty on his head, setting off a global manhunt by international assassins.”

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Staring: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Henwick, Dhanush, Regé-Jean Page
Release Date: July 22, 2022

Six (Ryan Gosling) is one of the most skilled assassin’s employed by the United States government. Hired by Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to be part of the deep-cover Sierra program, Six has earned a reputation as one of the best merchants of death in his profession. However, his sterling reputation is marred by controversy when a mission goes array. Six becomes privy to some information he isn’t meant to know, and now his own agency is coming after him. New Sierra program leader Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page) has taken the drastic measure (for protecting his own interest) of hiring the deranged Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) to take down Six. It becomes a battle of wits, banter and brawn as Six, with the help of Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), tries his best to survive, help his friends and prove his innocence.

Ryan Gosling plays the protagonist, and Gosling is the best part of this movie from an acting standpoint. Hands down. It is the man’s first movie since 2018’s First Man and I really hope he won’t take another extended break any time soon. Even in a movie where the screenplay is not outstanding and the need for profound acting ability isn’t paramount, Gosling’s ability to be the coolest man in the room is a powerful enough gravity to make everything work around him.

Chris Evans plays Lloyd, the deranged lunatic and main antagonist. Evans is…fine. What makes the character of Lloyd standout is not his actions, his power or his violence, but the barbs he puts out into the universe. Lloyd is like the Bard in a DnD campaign if the bard hasn’t had its fill of tea and crumpets. Evans enjoys going extra with the character. He even chose to play Lloyd after originally being cast as Six. However, Evans’ asshole centered charm does not work as well in The Gray Man as it did in Knives Out (2019).

Ana De Armas is wasted in The Gray Man. Really sorry, but she is. Her character of Dani Miranda gets roped into the rogue espionage game with Six when Carmichael pins part of Six’s rampage and escape on her. She feels the same type of kinship to try and prove herself innocent. However, her character just has zero depth. I have zero care whether she lives or dies. Dani is like a paper bag floating in the wind, going with the flow and being absent of everyone’s mind until she drives up in a car.

Billy Bob Thornton really gets the short end of the stick. The character of Fitzroy is very different in the books (according to a friend who read all the books), and the conclusion his Fitzroy reaches in the Russo brothers version of The Gray Man is not in lock step with the way the longer story is told. Thornton also has the terrible deed of yelling the line: “SHE HAS A PACEMAKER” which made me audibly laugh out loud.

The Gray Man is directed by the Russo brothers, so expectations for the action sequences are set to crazy heights. While the fists flying, guns bursting, buildings collapsing, cars crashing and comedic quips are all passable, the big crazy set pieces of The Gray Man don’t reach exceptional levels. The largest gripe regarding the bombastic fistacuffs is that they are not earned. The best fights in this movie came in close quarters. When Six takes down the one intruder to try and get to Claire (Julia Butters), that was Six fighting to protect someone for the first time. Counter that with the Six getting trapped in the dudes booby trap or the ridiculous airplane crash, and it makes the more explosive moments seem shallow.

The plane crash, while exciting and all, was not exceptionally well made. I get it that I am in the minority, but the best parts of The Gray Man are not when the stunt team and visual effect coordinators are working overtime. It’s the smaller moments, the quieter killing rather than the bonkers zaniness.

To compare it to my favorite action franchise right now, The Gray Man fits a lot more into the John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019). The action scenes are LOUD! The better, more memorable action scenes involving Mr. Wick come in John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), where there aren’t armor covered soldiers and preposterous headshot counts. The sequence of Wick escaping in the tunnels is loud in terms of the volume of the guns, but its quiet in terms of the setting and sensory overload. That same mesmerizing one-on-one violence is evident in many of Chad Stahelski’s movies and products.

The Gray Man is going to be a franchise with a sequel and spin-off already green it. For this series to survive, thrive and grow in the streaming landscape, it needs to follow the rose pedals that its recent successful predecessors have laid out. The Gray Man had the power of three mega super stars, but it is not as memorable as Extraction (2020). I still remember that final scene on the bridge.

The Gray Man is better than many of Netflix original action movies. It is far superior to Polar (2019), The Old Guard (2020), 6 Underground (2019), and Bright (2017). I would put it on the same level of Triple Frontier (2019). The Gray Man is a shut your brain off movie and it had the capability to be more. It is by no means bad, but it is slightly disappointing.

STANKO RATING: B- (3.0/5 Stars)

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