No one seems to mind when every romantic comedy follows the exact same plot.
Boy meets girl, girl falls for boy, something outlandish happens to separate them, love brings them back together. Rinse. Dry. Repeat.
Somewhere along the way, it seems that moviegoers have lost their appetite – or perhaps more aptly, critics have lost their taste – for by-the-numbers action films that focus on big fight sequences and a standard plot because of too many franchises churning out the same thing over and over again.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, known for big, bombastic Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, take on the action genre from a comic-book free perspective with a relatively original tale about a convicted criminal turned CIA assassin trapped in a world of political espionage and intrigue.
And while the screenplay from Joe Russo along with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely certainly doesn’t break any new ground in the genre, their film The Gray Man delivers solid entertainment with some terrific action sequences, a convincing cast of character driven actors and some inventive stunt work.
The film finds Six stuck in prison without a hope of parole for decades when a CIA officer hands him a get-out-of-jail-free card in exchange for lifetime service as a company hitman taking out bad guys off the books at Washington’s request. When Six is asked to take out a spy with compromising intel on the new bosses at Langley, he’s forced to go on the run in search of answers.
It’s clear from the outset that the titular character is intended to be an offshoot of Matt Damon’s famous Jason Bourne character without the memory loss and in reality, this shouldn’t work as anything more than a subpar copycat. But Ryan Gosling’s exceptionally dry performance offsetting his natural charisma gives Six a more well-rounded personality than one might expect from what’s on the page.
Even as things become more chaotic and the world around him spins into disarray, Gosling’s performance is unfrayed. Six’s motivations are rarely in doubt and his skills never questioned simply due to the instant gravitas Gosling brings to the role and the commitment he has to the drama in fight sequences.
Lines in the script like “You want to make an omelet? You gotta kill some people.” are especially cringy, but Chris Evans does such a terrific job relishing the over-the-top nature of his villainous mercenary Lloyd that the ridiculous becomes comical in the best way. Evans plays up every moment with a zeal befitting an 80s wrestling heel, complete with an absurd crewcut/macho mustache straight out of a Jean-Claude Van Damme direct to DVD release.
The Gray Man also boasts a bevy of very capable supporting performers smartly cast to accent the two leads. No Time To Die scene-stealer Ana de Armas proves why she rightly deserves her own action movie with a wonderful blend of defiant energy and stunt prowess, while Billy Bob Thornton and Alfre Woodard are exceptional as Six’s former handler/father figure and a CIA station chief respectively.
The one sore spot in the cast, unfortunately, is Bridgerton star Rene-Jean Page, whose turn as a CIA deputy director with secrets to hide doesn’t rise to the same level as Gosling and Evans, making his Denny Carmichael miserably weak and ineffective, almost totally skippable as audiences await a Gosling/Evans faceoff.
Action sequences litter every inch of The Gray Man with engaging hand-to-hand combat moments transitioning in and out of much larger, showy sequences with massive explosions that ramp up both the violence and the unbridled entertainment. For a movie about rival hitmen, The Gray Man puts the most creativity and passion into its action, which makes it immensely watchable regardless of the relatively flimsy premise that surrounds it.
While it’s a film that probably benefits greatly from a big screen setting like its limited theatrical debut last week, its ease of access as The Gray Man hits Netflix on Friday makes it an easy choice for action genre fans and those willing to turn off their brains for a couple of hours for mindless entertainment.