AGGRESSIVELY mediocre – that is the only way to describe The Gray Man, the latest ‘blockbuster’ action movie from Netflix.
Based on a 2009 novel by Mark Greaney, The Gray Man sees CIA assassin Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) on the run after coming in contact with a storage device that holds information on the corruption behind a higher ranked CIA official.
In order to effectively hunt down Six, the CIA contracts former agent-turned-mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans).
Due to Hansen’s actual lunacy, Six is forced into several near-death situations that leave countless others dead.
Honestly, The Gray Man is the kind of movie you play on the television during a family gathering, so that your uncle from the Steven Seagal-era of straight-to-DVD action movies sits quietly and watches it, instead of bothering everyone else with his awkward “jokes”.
About star power
It’s surprising how the movie was made by the same team behind the most successful movies by Marvel Studios. The Russo brothers directed the film, based on a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
Yet, despite their experience in military and spy action filmmaking, they turned in The Gray Man, which feels like a cheap action movie from a bygone era, except it was made with a US$200 million (RM891.3 million).
A large portion of the budget most likely went towards the Russo brothers roping in (primarily) Gosling, and the star-studded supporting cast to back him, such as Ana de Armas, and the brothers’ known Marvel collaborator, Chris Evans.
Fortunately, the clearly expensive casting is where The Gray Man shines the brightest.
Gosling plays it mostly straight as the stoic Six, which is pretty much in line with his style that was cemented in Drive and Only God Forgives. Though he does crack sassy one-liners once in a while, it’s Evans who elevates the film’s comedy.
Departing from the boy scout image of Captain America, Evans slips back into the shoes of the many slimy characters he used to portray during in the early days of his career, and goes completely ham as the actual pornstache-twirling villain in The Gray Man.
Evans has the time of his life playing Lloyd, pulling out fingernails, shooting crippled men, throwing kids around, and all the while looking like a sleazy adult film director with the tacky polo shirts and white pants.
Like the main leads, Ana’s character is also a one-dimensional spy, but her performance elevates it, especially when she begins running around full sprint, with a rocket and a grenade launcher strapped to her back.
If anything, her role here is a good appetizer for when she leads Ballerina, the John Wick spin-off.
Average action filmmaking
The remainder of the budget most likely went into the VFX, and then set and costume design, with the VFX, editing and action sequences in particular making the film look cheap.
In one setpiece involving a train, several cars, a lot of bullets, some generic bad guys and Gosling, the VFX (digital smoke and dust), incomprehensible editing and violent shaky-cam made the entire sequence painful to watch.
On another setpiece, a plane explodes while Gosling’s character is fighting several generic goons, and good luck trying to figure out what’s happening with the camera suffering from whiplash every second.
The Gray Man has a lot of action sequences. The big ones are terrible, while the smaller ones with close-quarters combat are decent, like the fight between Gosling and Ana against Kollywood actor Dhanush.
If it isn’t clear by this point, The Gray Man suffers because it can’t decide what it wants to be, whether in its writing or action filmmaking.
You can almost hear the film going: “Do we go big scale action like the Bond films? Or are we going for smaller action sequences like the John Wick films? Is this an action-comedy with how over-the-top Evans’ character is? Or is this a serious action film with how many people get shot, maimed, and blown up?”
The Gray Man doesn’t know, because it exists in the gray area of action films, never being one thing, because its a product of everything else overlapping each other.