Ryan Gosling headlining, an exciting onscreen reunion between Knives Out costars Ana de Armas and Chris Evans, and frequent Marvel collaborators the Russo Brothers behind the lens meant it was virtually impossible not to be excited for spy thriller, The Gray Man. For the real question though: does this Netflix movie live up to the hype? I would say yes, and no. It must be stated that The Gray Man is basically American James Bond on steroids, as if directed by Michael Bay—whether this statement has any actual appeal will determine one’s enjoyment either way. Personally, I found the action scenes magnificently over-the-top while the characterizations and story simply feel to be checking off the usual boxes. In other words, The Gray Man is an entertaining thriller boosted by its excellent ensemble cast.
All the way back in 2003, Court Gentry (Gosling, La La Land, Drive) is quietly trying to live out his sentence at Florida State Prison—eligible for parole in 2023–when recruitment handler Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton, Bad Santa, Mr. Woodcock) makes him an offer too compelling to refuse. Court’s entire sentence will be forgiven, but he must now work for an elite unit in the C.I.A., existing “in the gray” indefinitely. Flash forward 18 years (2021, for those who don’t want to do math), and Court now operates under the codename Six. “007 was taken,” he muses at one point in the film, not the first of the film’s attempts to be meta and subvert expectations. In the midst of a mission in Bangkok to eliminate a target that could “compromise national secrets,” Six accidentally unearths the surface of dark hidden C.I.A. baggage inside of a necklace.
If one has seen any given action film before, it is not entirely shocking that a bounty is quickly put on Six’s head. Manipulative and conniving Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page, Bridgerton, Mortal Enginges) is committed to recovering the asset no matter what the cost—even if that means hiring “unstable sociopath” Lloyd (Evans, Captain America, Not Another Teen Movie) much to the dismay of Carmichael’s colleague, Suzanne (Jessica Henwick, Iron Fist, The Matrix Resurrections). Painting himself as the baddie early on, Carmichael may not be all that intimidating, but seeing Page in this type of role is a thrill in itself. Tossing a pair of glasses on him still does not serve to lessen his sex appeal. The true villain of the picture though has to be Lloyd—his childish antics, including kicking Fitzroy in the face during an interrogation, and tossing a phone from a moving vehicle, are precursors to his wildly erratic tactics.
Also along for the ride is fellow C.I.A. agent, Dani (Ana de Armas, Knock, Knock, No Time to Die), who is hilariously responsible for constantly coming to Six’s rescue just when he needs it, and legendary operative Margaret Cahill (Alfre Woodard, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Annabelle), dying of cancer and living alone in Prague but vital to the endgame. Fitzroy’s pacemaker-addled niece, Claire, (Julia Butters, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi) is snatched by Lloyd at around the halfway point, after which she too becomes deeply important. I found that Butters and Gosling have an adorable chemistry onscreen, even in the face of an insane barrage of varied gunfire.
Any way you slice it, there is simply no denying the strength of the action scenes. A big one in Bangkok starts the movie off in a literal fireworks display, while a fiery plane fight-for-survival section and The Gray Man’s lengthy final confrontation in a hedge maze are obvious highlights. Clearly that’s more than enough to forgive far too many false-endings, or the immediate need to set it up for future sequels. Whether you’ve come for Gosling’s abs, de Armas kicking major ass, Evans’s “trash ‘stache,” or something else entirely, The Gray Man may scratch that action-movie itch to make for the perfect Netflix couch-blockbuster of the summer.
The Gray Man shoot you “in the ass” with a dart when it debuts in select theatres on Friday, July 15th, then heads to Netflix on Friday, July 22nd.