What on God’s green earth compelled Netflix to spend $200 million on a frivolous action flick directed by the Russo Brothers with stars Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans? Who exactly is asking for this film? And why isn’t there another season of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance? Well, with some context, this lunacy can easily be understood. You see, if you’ve been up to date with the latest industry news then you may have heard a few months ago that Netflix made a series of statements regarding their plans for the future of their streaming platform going forward. The streaming giant simply stated that they would be adjusting costs by decreasing the amount of projects made and instead focussing on higher budget, higher quality content pieces. Ergo, a frivolous $200 million Russo Brothers directed action film. But this didn’t happen overnight; it’s clear that this plan has been in the works for years. Films like Extraction (2020), Red Notice (2021), and Don’t Look Up (2021) have all shattered viewing records for this streaming platform. The seeds of this have been growing for some time and make no mistake, The Gray Man is just the beginning. But, is this really a bad thing? Well, no. And I’ll get to why that is shortly.
But let me first start off by saying that confidence was not high for me going into this film. The Russo Brother’s recent travesty of a film named Cherry (2021) instilled within me little to no confidence that they were ready to tackle anything but superhero team-ups for the foreseeable future. Cherry was a nauseatingly bad film experience; a mishmash of timelines condensed into a brutally long runtime that, in truth, wasn’t even that long, but rather, felt like a life-age. However, I am happy to be shown this is not the case with The Gray Man. If anything, The Gray Man perhaps proves that these brothers’ strengths lie in spectacle, not drama, and that the Russo’s most certainly have a place outside of the superhero genre. Further to that, one that I am, dare I say it, excited for? Yes, yes I am. This was an inoffensively well made action film. Yep.
The Gray Man has all the theatrics of a Michael Bay spectacle; cleanly shot action sequences, FPV drone shots, high caliber stars, and minimal character development – however, with all that it also manages to evade the permeating odor of Bay’s early 2000’s dialogue and instead remains quite minimalist with its one-liners and monologues. Its protagonist, Six (Gosling), is equally as minimal, being a man of few words and fewer personality traits. But even with little to no characterisation of this protagonist, Gosling makes the character work, no doubt due to his extensive experience in muted character roles that are heavy on subtle physical gestures and micro-emotions – something that’s probably a lot harder to pull off than it seems.
Supporting cast members like Chris Evans struggles to take full command of the screen as the story’s lead antagonist, but still provides a surprisingly charming touch in spite of his unintimidating screen presence. Ana De Armas lands in a similar territory as her role in No Time To Die (2021) – providing a solid supporting action role alongside Gosling. But ultimately, the success of this film lies not in the cast, but in the Russo Brothers’ successful pacing and the well thought-out scope of the action narrative. While not every piece fits together and the film lacks any sort of meaningful emotional core, it succeeds in unfolding action in a concise and rhythmic manner. The Gray Man may not contain beautiful action precision like John Wick or the grand spectacle of Mission Impossible, but what it does contain is consistency; in its pace, scope, and ultimately, payoff.
Netflix’s move toward high budget productions pays off here with an action spectacle that above all else, entertains. Do I desire more rompy action-comedies like Red Notice? No, the industry already has more than its share of comedy focussed action flicks. But I’ll settle for a quarterly high-octane action film with a nine-figure budget; so long as it does what The Gray Man does, and focuses squarely on being an action film.