The Gray Man has the misfortune of coming out in the same year as Top Gun: Maverick and RRR. The former has thrilling, reality-based action, with star Tom Cruise and colleagues flying actual jet planes. The latter is an unapologetically over-the-top, endlessly entertaining action extravaganza that cleverly uses CGI to allow its characters to perform impossible feats. Both seriously upstage The Gray Man, which is too preposterous to deliver Maverick-level fun, and not preposterous enough to deliver RRR-level fun.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (Avengers: Endgame), the picture is a compendium of clichés. Ryan Gosling plays CIA assassin Six (because characters in movies like this always have numbers instead of names). He's been assigned to take out a “very dangerous person” who ends up being another operative from the program. Before dying, the guy gives him – you guessed it! - a flash drive that contains incriminating evidence. A morally questionable supervisor (Regé-Jean Page) wants to prevent him from doing anything with it, so he brings in Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), a sarcastic and ruthless killer, to hunt him down.
Helping Six are the requisite weary mentor (Billy Bob Thornton) and the equally requisite sultry, one-dimensional female colleague (Ana de Armas) with little function in the plot other than to look sexy while holding a gun or punching somebody. The Gray Man even tosses in the obligatory KINOP (Kid in Need of Protection). Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Julia Butters plays the niece of Thornton's character, who is present simply to be put in danger.
What is The Gray Man about? Not much, as it happens. The film mostly goes through the motions, having Six hop the globe making efforts to decrypt the information on the flash drive and intermittently finding himself in the middle of a perilous shootout/fistfight. Nothing about it is fresh. We've seen it all before in dozens of similar pictures, often done with more finesse. The screenplay feels like it was written by people who have watched a hundred “assassin on the run” movies and assumed recycling the same familiar beats would be enough to satisfy the audience. You won't find anything here to legitimately care about. Chaotic proceedings pass before your eyes, never engaging you emotionally or intellectually.
Action scenes certainly aren't boring, yet even they don't make a big impact. One finds Six on an airplane that takes damage and begins shredding apart in mid-air. It's one of those sequences that's distractingly CGI'ed to death, meaning that you never buy into it because of the visible artificiality. Later, a massive gunfight breaks out in a city square, with bullets flying, cars crashing, and people making gravity-defying leaps between vehicles. Again, not boring, but also the exact same kind of stuff that has become commonplace in this John Wick/Fast & Furious era. An excess of show-offy drone shots further underlines the style-over-substance nature of the movie.
Evans gets some funny wisecracks as Lloyd, and Gosling is always a compelling screen presence. Neither they, nor Thornton, de Armas, or Page are to blame. A lazy, uninspired script is the culprit. With this cast and the Russos behind the camera, we expect a lot more imagination than we get. The Gray Man is mildly diverting if you have a Netflix subscription and two hours to kill. Just don't expect to remember anything about it afterward.
out of four
The Gray Man is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of strong violence, and strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.