Since their release of Marvel’s Captain America: Winter Soldier in 2014, the Russo Brothers have been on quite the marathon of directing large-budgeted films. With 4 significant credits stemming from Marvel properties and not to mention their not so budgeted but well-marketed film, Cherry, released in 2021 following their considerable success, Avengers: Endgame. To say Anthony and Joe Russo have been putting in the work would be an understatement if you consider the fact that it has only been a little over a year and they have just released their latest project, The Gray Man. Released under Netflix, this fresh-off-the-block spy thriller features a bombshell of a cast and provides a somewhat absorbing atmosphere. The film centers around the CIA’s top agent Sierra 6, an off-the-records, covert operative equipped with an arsenal of deadly skills. But after uncovering the agency’s buried secrets, agent 6 drifts off the grid and sets off a global manhunt in order to halt any potential leaks.
First off, spy films have been a staple genre for decades, beginning with Mata Hari in 1931, directed by French extraordinaire, George Fitzmaurice. Since then, the string of spy thrillers has been an overwhelming, yet blissfully entertaining roller coaster as iconic characters and films have since been created. But of course, with such a staggering amount of spy films being made, the originality and individuality within these films have slowly dwindled causing the spiral of formulaic plots as well as the repetition of exhausting tropes. And of course, The Gray Man is by no means an exception to said tropes, especially when it comes to the most frustrating of them all, and that is the “disavowed/no support” trope seen countlessly before.
This trite banality comes off as just plain boring at times, especially when there seems to be little to no consequence to the protagonist being completely off the grid. The Russo Brothers have seemingly slipped into the storm of formulaic story writing since their time with Marvel Studios as their films consist of illogical judgment while featuring laughable character decisions. And it’s then where we see the massive flaw within the hyperactive action blockbuster, and it may not be too difficult to imagine seeing how there are 5 writers attached to this project. This film, from the beginning, was no more than a setup for potential sequels which means the potential of this film including a sliver of adequate writing was scrapped from the start to rush through this installment and move onto the next. It can be remarkably frustrating at times having to mentally check out during plot developments as they are so poorly written. The careless writing is harrowingly apparent during the majority of this film, which explains why scenes involving fast-paced action are thrown in so frequently to distract audiences from the sloppy writing.
Though as for the dialogue between characters, it is surprisingly well done for the most part when it comes to laughable delivery. For the bulk of the film, you will find yourself comedically pleased as the film delivers genuinely decently written dialogue. Snarky and witty jokes are slipped in properly at times, but funnily enough, the exchanges at times can be awfully reminiscent of the overused quippy exchanges that were seen in all of the Russo Brothers Marvel installments. And ironically, this film introduces lines made to be self-aware of irrational character decisions to then adding in dense logic, it’s an odd juxtaposition that also comes off as extremely distracting. Fortunately for the film, the tepid writing, as well as the dull originality of the plot, is somewhat bearable due to the wonderful assortment of cast members.
The casting of Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans as rival agents is perhaps the best decision of the film. Gosling has put 100% into every role, and this role is no exception. Although his character writing is a tad monotone while on the casual witty side, similar to his roles in the film Drive (2011) and The Nice Guys (2016), his sheer determination to convince the audience of his character’s motives and expertise is beyond believable. And of course, Chris Evans as Gosling’s hilariously cocky counterpart blends perfectly, mixed with his perfectly delivered dialogue, Evans effectively steals each scene he’s in. As for Ana De Armas, Jessica Henwick, and Regé-Jean Page, their characters are written with less than an ounce of finesse or proper development. And because this film is a sequel setup, Henwick and Regé-Jean Page’s talents are voided completely, giving both actors little to do in each scene besides providing context and exposition.
And while the film may be unbearable when it comes to incomprehensible writing, the action however is by far one of the more proficient aspects. Even though said action scenes are thrown in left and right, it’s a miracle that most are, to some degree, extremely entertaining to watch. Since the release of Chad Stahhelski’s exceedingly competent film, John Wick, which spotlights fight scenes shot with limited takes to allow audiences to comprehend every move and action made between characters, it seems other films have taken notice. The Gray Man especially has taken inspiration, and although a portion of the fights employ the use of the vile method of shaky cam, a majority of scenes are manageable and distinguishable. But what audiences may find headache-inducing, even laughable at times, is the cinematography as a whole. For some odd reason, directors and their appeal of shooting footage via drone has skyrocketed in recent years. This specific method of filming makes for stylistic shots but at the same time provides woefully unnecessary shots. The drone footage and irrelevant footage may remind those of Michael Bay’s apathetic action film, Ambulance, which also included the use of superfluous footage via drone. This form of shooting is purely experimental and in no way does it aid in propelling any aspects of the film.
Ultimately, The Gray Man is no more than your average action thriller accompanied by an A-list cast to further distract you from the considerable number of flaws littered throughout this 2-hour film. From the butchered story to the overwhelming action, the Russo’s direct a painfully illogical spy thriller without implementing proper storytelling or development. This film is by no means worth watching if you are looking for an intricately detailed story, but rather it seems to be crafted for those seeking a film overflowing with explosions, and mindless action scenes. If capable of ignoring the missteps made throughout this film, you can count on experiencing an immensely enjoyable time.