"I take orders from the Octoboss."

The Gray Man

THE GRAY MAN is the new Netflix movie that they put so much into they’re actually doing promotion for it. Showed it to critics a week early, had the directors do interviews and stuff, as if they want people to know it’s there and maybe watch it. Almost like they’re in the movie business. Crazy.

It stars Ryan Gosling (ONLY GOD FORGIVES) as “Six,” a guy who was doing time for murder until a spook named Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton, ON DEADLY GROUND) got him released in exchange for dedicating his life to being a secret government assassin, or “Sierra.” One day on a mission in Bangkok he takes out a target (Callan Mulvey, BEYOND SKYLINE) who, before dying, gives him an encrypted drive he says has the dirt on Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page, MORTAL ENGINES), his new boss at the CIA who pushed Fitzroy out. When Carmichael acts suspicious about it on the phone Six decides to mail the drive to a retired handler he trusts (Alfre Woodard, CROOKLYN) and go on the run.

To track down Six and the drive, Carmichael hires Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans, STREET KINGS), a guy who was kicked out of the CIA for being too much of a maniac even for the CIA, who now works as a freelancer so that he can be hired by the CIA to do the things they supposedly aren’t allowed to do. Convenient. Lloyd ambushes Fitzroy at a funeral (presumably for the guy Six just killed) and reveals that they’ve kidnapped his beloved niece Claire (Julia Butters, ONCE UPON A TIME …IN HOLLYWOOD), forcing him to help them find/kill Six.

So it’s largely a chase movie with Six jumping through a series of countries, meeting up with people he needs help from, sometimes getting betrayed, sometimes being caught up with by Lloyd or other mercs trying to get a bounty on him. There are a bunch of big spectacular action scenes, the most memorable being a foot chase/shoot out that goes into and on top of a moving light rail train with an enemy car and an ally car (bullet proof) chasing it. The ally is Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas, KNOCK KNOCK), a CIA agent assigned to help him in the Bangkok mission who comes after him to clear her name and then realizes he’s telling her the truth.

The tone is serious, but everybody is a smartass. Shane Black is an obvious influence. I like movies like that, so I’m not gonna complain. The directors are Anthony and Joe Russo (YOU, ME AND DUPREE, AVENGERS: ENDGAME) with a script credited to Joe Russo and the team of Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (CAPTAIN AMERICA movies, NARNIA movies, PAIN & GAIN), based on the novel by Mark Greaney, a former medical supply salesman whose success with the book led to 10 sequels so far plus co-writing a bunch of books with Tom Clancy. So my impression is that the books are what they call “airport novels.” From what I’ve read the adaptation is somewhere in the middle between “completely faithful” and “nothing to do with the book.”

Six and Miranda are both highly skilled in many fighting techniques and get to do all kinds of running around punching, slashing and stabbing, dropping hand grenades, leaping off roofs onto vehicles, throwing each other guns, jumping through windows. There’s something very satisfying about little Ana de Armas coming to the rescue suited up like a GI Joe, running toward a castle with a bunch of guns, blowing up a helicopter with a rocket launcher – a great shot where the copter spins and explodes as it crashing into water and causes a big fiery, watery explosion. Um, yes, I would like her to be on my side.

And in the middle of this why the hell not have another elite badass called “Lone Wolf” played by Dhanush (I can’t claim to be familiar but apparently he’s a superstar actor, singer and filmmaker in Tamil cinema) show up and battle them for a while? There is no reason not to do it unless you’re some kind of asshole.

One of the second unit director/stunt coordinators is James Young, who was choreographer for the Zoe Bell movie RAZE, fight coordinator for various Marvel movies, and stunt double for the Winter Soldier. Maybe that’s why we get to have cool Winter Soldier/Black Widow type leaps like this:

Also credited as a second unit director is the legendary Spiro Razatos (MANIAC COP, EXTREME JUSTICE, GET CARTER, BAD BOYS II, RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE, DEATH RACE), which very much makes sense because he had that job on FASTs FIVE, 6, SEVEN, FATE, 9 and X, and some of this stuff is very similar in its complex mixture of stunt work and FX to depict high speed crazy vehicle hopping insanity. The #1 reason cinema was invented and persists, even it goes straight to streaming.

Most people I’ve talked to did not like this. Some hated it. At best they seem to think it’s mediocre. I rate it more as just solidly entertaining. It’s certainly no JOHN WICK, and as far as the original Netflix productions go, I prefer the slightly more artful (and bloodier) EXTRACTION and KATE. At the same time, this offers a sense of blockbuster-sized scope and spectacle that those don’t, and that few action movies do these days. It’s more of a globe trotting exaggerated super spy type of movie. I appreciate that it’s neither the smart assy nothing-matters-we’re-just-riffin-here-ain’t-I-stinker type bullshit that Ryan Reynolds and The Rock prefer, nor the this-is-very-serious po-faced-ness of the BOURNEs and some of those. It’s too proud to wink and nudge but unashamed to take place in a world where

1) a weirdo passport forger (Wagner Moura from ELITE SQUAD and its sequel) is such a weasel that his studio is equipped with a trapdoor that drops Six into a dungeon so he can turn him in for a bounty

2) but Six very quickly MacGyvers an escape that involves flooding the entire chamber so he can float to the top and set off an improvised explosive. Which he does just as Lloyd’s shock troops arrive, so the explosion also kills a bunch of them and creates steam for him to emerge from and look cool.

The most common complaints I’ve seen were about the CG looking cheap and the action being unclear. One scene that has been accused of both is the one where Six has to fight his way off of a plane that’s tearing apart, spinning and plummeting. I know there are people who just think anything they can identify as a digital effect (most things in most big budget movies) is offensive garbage. I don’t follow that religion and to me this looks as detailed and convincing as the average blockbuster movie, which means more than the vast majority of straight ahead action movies that try this sort of thing. I found the scene totally thrilling and actually well directed – it’s just the exact right amount of disorientation for me to feel like I’m in there getting knocked around while still being able to follow what’s going on. Not just wiggling around for no reason – a deliberate, effective way to communicate the feeling of the action. Controlled chaos.

Many people (including my friend Mike from Action For Everyone) really hate the look of the movie (director of photography: Stephen F. Windon, THE POSTMAN, DEEP BLUE SEA), and specifically mentioned CG fireworks and smoke as being a problem, as well as darkness. I guess this is just a matter of taste (I have none) because a specific thing I liked about the movie was how much they use steam and smoke and darkness while keeping strong silhouettes on the characters so you can still identify them. I want to look a little more at the sequence with the fireworks because I thought it was a good one.

The assassination in Bangkok takes place at a party for the Thai New Year’s holiday Songkran, just as a big fireworks show is happening outside. Six doesn’t shoot his target when he’s supposed to (a kid is there, wouldn’t you know) so he has to chase him through the club. The fireworks show seen through the windows serves as both atmosphere (alternating blue, red and yellow light onto the characters) and narrative (it’s a visual and aural distraction allowing Six to attack from behind). He grabs a series of objects – a woman’s hair stick, a cheese knife, a bottle – and uses them to John Wick the target’s entourage behind him. The low light of the scene is actually the coolest thing about it because it’s perfectly tempered between being able to see him and believing these guys wouldn’t immediately notice what was going on.

The target ends up throwing somebody through the window and using the hole to exit, landing between the cannons that are launching the fireworks, and Six follows him to continue the fight. The literal and figurative pyrotechnics of the scene are too chaotic for some people, but I think it’s probly more intelligible than many of the fights we’ve seen in studio movies, including the Russos’ own CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. More importantly I think it’s a legitimate case of an effective impressionistic action scene. For this fight I think it’s fair to trade a little lucidity for the imagery of the fireworks and the combatants pushing each other over the barrels as they explode. It looks fucking cool while also being a clever way to isolate these two from witnesses to a crucial conversation and exchange.

To me, ideas like that (what if they fight between fireworks cannons?) are the reason to do a movie like this. JOHN WICK is an obvious influence on some of the visuals as well as the action, but it also made me think of the scene in BLACKHAT where he meets that guy in the middle of that religious procession with everyone carrying torches. Darkness and light and this big thing going on around them but they’re only focused on each other. I think THE GRAY MAN tries to follow that tradition of finding interesting settings and imagery for each sequence instead of going right to the standards.

Of course that’s not to say that it’s anywhere as effective as JOHN WICK or BLACKHAT, and it doesn’t add as much originality to its well-worn plot conventions. But I still think these “the story is generic” complaints are a little like calling a sandwich generic for using two pieces of bread. The idea is to tell that type of story and put some mustard on it, and I think they did that well.

So I’m gonna list some more of the little moments, action gags and images I thought gave this personality:

• The way the assassination plan in Bangkok is to shoot up through a glass floor with people dancing on top of it and into another glass floor above that with the target on it.

• When he’s in a dark house fighting an invader while holding a flashlight, and it cuts to an exterior from the distance and you just see the flashlight beam whipping around inside.

• When he’s battling guys on the light rail train and has to wait for the accordion to straighten out to have a clear shot.

• When he’s on top of the train and looks at the reflection in the windows of a building they’re passing to see the location of an enemy inside the train and shoot him through the roof.

• I like that after it’s introduced the kidnapped niece element it novelistically skips back two years to tell the story of Six being assigned to protect Claire and becoming friends with her. We’ve seen this plot a million times and we don’t usually get that.

• When Claire is covering her ears listening to a record (possible FACE/OFF homage) and the camera moves along the windows as, through the closed curtains, we can make out Six passing along outside battling the people guarding her.

• When he’s being shot at while handcuffed to a bench and has to steal and load a gun one-handed.

• When he hears someone outside a room and the camera follows his three shots across the wall to the door as the body falls against it and pops it open.

• During a big fist fight Lloyd punches Six in the skull and hurts his hand. Then he gets thrown into a fountain and whines that the flare gun burn from earlier stings.

• Six fights Lone Wolf in a hospital and uses a defibrillator as a weapon (to shock him) but Lone Wolf gets it and uses it as a different type of weapon (spinning it by the cable like a chain mace).

Also I enjoyed following the arc of Six’s cool black and red windbreaker. Needing to change his appearance to escape, he buys it from a random gamer in an alley in Bangkok. He’s still wearing it the next day when he jumps out of a crashing plane and lands in Turkey, and then when he gets to Vienna, but unfortunately I think he loses it while escaping from the flooded passport dungeon. Still, a three country run is more than most jackets get. R.I.P. to a real one.

In order to be part of the Sierra program, to be an ultimate killer, you have to have no family. Fitzroy came up with the program and as soon as bad people find out he has a niece he cares about, they use that against him. When they figure who Six cares about they used that against him as well. By contrast, the villains have no loyalty to each other. Carmichael’s subordinate Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick – Bugs from THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS!) says that they’re old Harvard friends, which I guess could be a euphemism, but I took it literally. Either way, they’re the kind of “friends” who scheme to steal power from each other at any cost. That’s what makes them the bad guys.

And they’re wrong about bonds being a weakness. Six’s loyalty to those he cares about is reciprocated, while the villains’ dishonor causes allies to abandon them (in one case specifying that “These are not honorable people.”)

For his first assignment, Six is given a comically large gun, like an action figure might have. I like that he has to ditch it and then (though it’s certainly not an anti-gun movie) uses all manner of other weapons, improvised and otherwise, with blades being an apparent favorite. During that duel in the fireworks pit, the previous Sierra throws away his gun to fight hand-to-hand. In the climax, when Six duels to the death with Lloyd, he throws his gun into a fountain and they go at with fists. (And a knife.) I prefer more flying kicks, but it’s a good, brutal fist fight as far as movie star fist fights go, with the extravagant touches of the fountain and happening as the sun comes up. (And he does get to break off the center of the fountain by kicking Lloyd’s head into it. Not even as the finishing move.)

Since this is a movie star movie I suppose I should mention that Gosling is a solid leading man, able to dip into both sides of the DRIVE/THE NICE GUYS dichotomy by being fairly stoic but with a dry sense of humor. Evans is clearly having a ball, being an absolute prick, his muscles bulging out of a polyester shirt I might wear and his face decked in a mustache I definitely wouldn’t. It’s funny, his years of being Captain America almost made me forget how long his thing was playing arrogant dicks. Here he gets to dust off the old chops and yes, he’s going big. It would be a disservice to the movie not to.

I love the counterintuitive casting of Thornton for this role. If you need a guy who’s recruiting people into a world of murder, but you want him to be thought of as a lovable father figure, is your first thought gonna be BAD SANTA? We loved him playing so many assholes and contradictorily that makes us think of him as a sweetheart here.

De Armas is always cool and I dig that they don’t bother with some kind of love story or sexual tension. These are professionals. Henwick is more locked into performing a certain narrative role and unfortunately never gets to bust out the martial arts skills. However, they already announced a sequel so I’m gonna assume these two will have a great fight against each other. Speaking of sequels, I respect the discipline of the Russos not going too Marvel with this. I was positive that the mysterious unseen boss referred to as “The Old Man” would be some surprise celebrity cameo during the credits, but they left it alone. I look forward to more adventures in Gray Land, but if they decide to pull the plug this is complete as is.

Anyway, it’s pretty good. That’s all.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 27th, 2022 at 2:09 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

33 Responses to “The Gray Man”

  1. It’s a good Sunday matinee movie, and I genuinely mean that as a compliment. A lot of the criticisms seem like features, not bugs. It travels around too much? I loved the beautiful pans and location shots! The story moves too fast? It’s a very standard story, I’m glad they condensed so much to get to the good parts. I think there’s a ton of interesting grace notes, neat ways of framing things or the pops of color and texture you don’t see in most modern movies that people also complain look uniform.

  2. I thought this was just okay. The opening fight with Callan Mulvey amid the firework cannons had me worried, though. You can call it “impressionistic,” I would call it “indecipherable.” It made me think back to the reviews of Winter Soldier and worry ‘Oh shit, maybe it was true all along — the Russo’s really can’t direct hand-to-hand action.’ The ensuing sequences were a lot better, though. I could tell what was going on and it was apparent that they put some actual effort into the fight choreography as soon as the plane sequence.

    I love Jessica Henwick (the BTS videos of her training for Matrix 4 are more entertaining than any sequence that ended up in the movie) but thought she was really miscast here. She was unconvincing and too young (despite the laughable attempt at aging her with that terrible haircut) and it’s a waste to put her in an action movie and not have her do any action.

  3. I like this quite a bit as well. Though the drone shots are too much.

    Thanks for pointing out the little touches, Vern!

  4. Count me on Team Mediocre. Biggest disappointment was they kept Lloyd in a room watching monitors most of the movie. Imagine if Stallone and Snipes barely faced off in Demolition Man.

    I did like the handcuff gun bit, especially when he ran out of ammo before shooting himself free. Dhanush was cool but also too many characters and not enough character, if you get my drift.

  5. I was already pretty sure I was gonna love this because all the Twitter crybabies hated it, but now I’m so sure I’m gonna love it, I stopped reading this review halfway through the list of action highlights. Every single thing I’ve heard about it, even the complaints—maybe even especially the complaints?—make it seem right up my alley.

    “it’s just the exact right amount of disorientation for me to feel like I’m in there getting knocked around while still being able to follow what’s going on. Not just wiggling around for no reason – a deliberate, effective way to communicate the feeling of the action. Controlled chaos.”

    This is what I was trying to get across when everybody was slagging on the Russos’ action a few years back. I like that they’re not trying to perfectly convey every single move like it’s a dance instruction video. They’re using all the components of film, not just choreography, to tell the story, and the very instant a shot or a movement or a beat has told its story, we move on. I think they’re great at combining exterior movement with interior expression. I’m excited to see what they can do with a slightly more grounded action palette.

  6. I enjoyed it. Just two quick notes:

    1. Evans really puts oomph into it but try as he might he can’t top the intro shot of him with shoes and no socks. He’s got some quality lines but they just don’t bump his asshole cred over that initial silent image.

    2. C’mon Vern, Billy Bob has plenty of clandestine recruiter in him plus, no matter how hard you will it, he’s still playing caring uncle in Armageddon.

  7. I really liked this one. I’m with you, Vern, I had no problem with the action containing CGI or kind of banging around with smoke or steam or dark vs light. I could always tell what was going on and thought it made it either interesting (fight in the middle of a fireworks display) or made sense (a plane tumbling around in the sky while on fire is going to be smoky and confusing). It was just the right amount of stuff for me – action vs slower moments to catch our breath and get to know the characters, humor vs seriousness, over the top villain vs stoic, but slightly snarky, hero. I thought the pacing was great.

    I’ve seen complaints that Chris Evans was too hammy and that Ryan Gosling was too quippy, but I disagree and enjoyed both characters and performances quite a bit. I really liked Gosling’s style of humor because he was so deadpan with his delivery and his comments often weren’t even sarcastic over-embellishments, they were straight forward comments about the situation or his feelings. It was almost autistic in that other people were trying to be cute and he just said out loud the thing most people would be thinking.

    And I have decided that I just don’t care any more if it’s not the thing and that I’m supposed to want more from female characters – I am always going to love the stoic, damaged hero coming to rescue the girl, whether it’s a young girl or a grown woman love interest, and where she’s confident that he’s coming. Don’t get me wrong, I do want more from female characters, too. I’m just always going to love that. And this time we got a strong woman in the role of Miranda, so win-win. I loved that he had earplugs for Claire when he got there. When I said all this to my friend when we were watching she said she was annoyed they didn’t even try to escape and just waited for him. I didn’t say it to her, but I was thinking, that would’ve been stupid of Claire to try and escape. She’s a 13 year old (or however old) kid with a heart condition in a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language (presumably). She has no skills, or resources, or money, or ID. She can’t go to her own embassy or government people for help because they’re the bad guys. She’d have bad guys with all of those things on her tail. She knows Six is coming, which means she also has no way of contacting him to say she’s escaped, so don’t come. Better to just wait for him. I’m glad I didn’t say all that because I realized my friend was more annoyed about Thornton not trying to escape. Which is kind of fair, but also, he’s not a field guy. He’s an ops guy. Probably better for him to just wait, too.

    I also really loved the final showdown between Six and Lloyd because ***SPOILERS*** it was a have your cake and eat it too scenario in that we got the hero just HANDILY demolishing the bad guy in the fist fight, but then Lloyd has to be a big cheater and pull out a knife, so then we get the hero hurt and having to fight through it all to come back and triumph. I thought it was nicely done.

  8. It was the definition of a medium film to me. Some good action sequences, most of which worked (count me on the side of the airplane stuff being incomprehensible), some decent character work. That tram scene really laid down the gauntlet for The Fast And The Furious to top it if they can. The Chris Evans stunt casting works well, even if they half-waste it by having him spend most of the movie MST3King the movie we’re watching.

    The Bad: Half-formed story. Why is Detective John Grayman so willing to chuck his entire world on the say-so of this random guy with an USB drive? Dhanush honorably un-henchmaning himself is cute, but we just met the character five minutes ago, so I’d really rather have the version of the scene where Ana de Armas wins a badass fight. Lack of personality: say what you will about No Time to Die, but they gave AdA more character in fifteen minutes than this movie does in an hour plus. And for a lifelong prisoner turned CIA slave spy, Six is just Gosling doing the same stoic act as he did in Drive and Blade Runner 2k3. Remember, Snake Plisken is the same basic archetype. If Snake did jobs for Lee Van Cleef for twenty-odd years, don’t you think he’d have a lot more going on under the skin than Six’s wry glibness?

    The Ugly: Seriously, movie, you can’t find a way to *show us* that Ryan Gosling and Billy Bob Thornton have a father-son relationship, you’re just going to have the characters say it out loud when we in the audience have only seen them quip at each other about bubble gum?

  9. Just echoing my comments in the previous thread that this was a massive disappointment, and confirms a nagging suspicion that WINTER SOLDIER was a fluke and outside of gargantuan CGI-aided Superhero Slug Fests, the Russos know dick about filming grounded action scenes.

    Interestingly enough, I watched a crackerjack Korean action movie a couple of days after seeing this, THE ROUNDUP starring the great Ma Dong Seok (AKA Don Lee), a sequel to his earlier THE OUTLAWS (another dynamite action yarn) and seeing 90 minutes of lean, streamlined, brutally efficient action sequences paced, shot and edited with such pristine clarity, culminating in a mano-e-mano showdown in a stationary bus that rivals the beatdown in NOBODY, I just about went down on my knees and wept with joy. And realized this is my jam. You can’t give me clarity like this, you don’t make the cut.

    “I like that they’re not trying to perfectly convey every single move like it’s a dance instruction video”

    But my point, Majestyk is…… it doesn’t NEED to look like a dance instruction video.

    I’ll take one scene from GRAY MAN: The jump out of the airplane was a freaking mess. If you derived any sense of coherency from what was supposed to be a protagonist’s attempt to either wrest a parachute away from another jumper or piggy back that sucker to the ground, your visual cortex is far more attuned than mine. That scene made sense to me only because I read the book, and author Mark Greaney described it well. Now watch a similar scene in POINT BREAK, made 31 years ago, and tell me Kathryn Bigelow didn’t use all components of film to give you a masterful sequence. It’s not a dance instruction video, it’s an Action Maestro doing a Van Gogh equivalent of painting bold, dramatic strokes on canvas to give you something amazing to look at and experience, while the Russos give you crayon scribblings on
    mahjong paper that’s supposed to represent a 3 year old’s version of a tiger that everyone else struggles to identify as such no matter how hard they squint at it.

    Look, kudos to those who enjoy what Vern artfully describes as “controlled chaos”. It’s just not for me.

    Just so I don’t come across as a total Negative Nancy, the street shoot out in Czech was ok, and I enjoyed both the 3-way hospital fight between Gosling, De Armas and Dhanush and the final showdown between Evans and Gosling. I just wish I could have got more of that as opposed to scenes shot like the production got a major bulk bargain discount on drones and smoke machines.

    And finally, let me give thanks to small mercies: They got the far less annoying Ryan to headline this

  10. Am also with MaggieMayPie that once in a blue moon, it is perfectly ok for a 13 year old hostage not to possess a particular set of skills, like fashioning a lock pick out of a paper clip she found on the floor, then creep around the castle with the stealth of an Ordained Ninja, fashion a bomb out of 5 items she found in the kitchen and a microwave, take out 3 henchman 3 times her size cause she spends most of her free time watching Scott Adkins movies, breaks Fitzroy out then greets an arriving Gosling with a “What took you so long?” quip and a smirk.

  11. I don’t know. The review DOES make it sound more interesting, but as I said earlier somewhere else, I really am not in the mood anymore to spend time on action movies, that are made by people who can’t do action. People were hyping the elevator fight in WINTER SOLDIER as something on the level of JOHN WICK, but while the concept was great, it was just the usual cut-after-every-hit bullshit. Controlled chaos my ass! THE RAID is controlled chaos. This was just amateur hour. In another scene they let a stuntman jump over a moving car, but then cut to three different angles during the jump! Every once in a while someone tweets BTS footage from the fight scenes in CIVIL WAR and they look so much cooler than in the actual movie, just because the camera stands still.

    While I do agree that ENDGAME showed that the Russos actually do know the 101 of action film making (“Let the audience see what they paid for”), I guess the whole thing was just to FX heavy, that it was easier to render long, clear takes instead of some post action bullshit. I mean, they are not Greengrass or Megaton bad, but if you ask me, they should’ve stayed with directing hip sitcoms. That seems to be more of their wheelhouse.

    But yeah, Vern softened me on it at least so much that I might check it out one lazy Sunday morning. Not this one though. Or the next. Maybe when the sequel comes out and I’m like: “Oh yeah, that movie exists.”

  12. I liked the action scenes in this one. I thought there was more of an old-school sensibility to the set pieces and utilizing the environment as part of the action. Too many other movies these days have the fights or action in interchangeable environments, but I liked the firework bit, the plane bit, the tramcar bit, and the one with Ana and Dhanush fighting on opposite sides of the table. Lots of moving parts and little touches that show attention to detail. I also kinda liked the drone shots– is that how they did those swooping camera moves?

    Ana de Armas continues to be the best thing about every movie she’s in. Her (and her stunt double) running and jumping and firing rockets and other bits of badassery.

    In The Prisoner, Number Six was all “I’m not a number, I’m a free man!” and in this one it’s more like “My real name is Court, so please call me Six.”

    Since we did not see the Old Man, I assume this takes place in the same universe as Jeff Bridges’ Old Man series.

  13. I liked it too. Sure it’s a bit boilerplate, but sometimes you don’t need much more than that, I liked the cast involved enough to get behind what they were doing, especially Evans. How often do you get a villain who’d take a second to call someone a douche while they were [spoiler]?

    MaggieMayPie: “I really liked Gosling’s style of humor because he was so deadpan with his delivery and his comments often weren’t even sarcastic over-embellishments, they were straight forward comments about the situation or his feelings. It was almost autistic in that other people were trying to be cute and he just said out loud the thing most people would be thinking.”
    I liked it too, because it conveyed to me that he was so checked out from doing the job so long this had become somewhat mundane for him. I also liked how sincerely safety conscious he was with the “who throws a loaded gun?” exchange.

  14. I don’t know…I liked parts of it, I guess?? There’s some real craft on display but also some scenes went way way wayyyyy too long to the point where I was checked out and doing Wordle, or confirming that, yes, Jessica Henwick was in UNDERWATER, which is still fan-fucking-tastic. IMO.

    People hating on the Bangkok sequence is news to me, it’s one of the best parts of the film in my book. I guess I just don’t know anything.

  15. I think this one is okay, probably? I think my problem was kind of that I really liked the first 20 mins and started to lose interest when it settled down into something a bit less striking. But on rewatch that might even out.

    I liked the look and staging of the opening though. Had an almost plastic, tactile quality. I don’t know, something to do with the lighting. Really unusual I thought.

    I thought it was funny they did the classic thing of having the shorthand for the child being incredibly clever and interesting was that that she was really into tunes from when the directors would have been kids. I’d love to see a precocious movie kid who was just into the shit kids are into these days, BTS or whatever, while also being smart.

    I have a couple theories as to why this movie has arguably been overhated.

    – 1 – the obvious thing is just that a lot of people with film twitter cachet don’t like the Russos, and the Russos have given some silly soundbites, and people end up reviewing the discourse and not the film. And it’s also easier to actually land some blows on MCU people when they’re outside the MCU’s protective shell. Catch them when they’re vulnerable (and also ‘cherry’ is a legit fascinating film – genuinely unwatchable and proof that the biggest directors in the world had no audience or critical goodwill baked-in whatsoever).

    -2- The film’s proximity to the Macquarrie M:I and Craig Bonds is just an impossibly high bar to clear. Those films are beautiful. Setpieces that’d be good for the MCU don’t cut the mustard compared to those. (See also Black Widow).

    -3- Something about it – the cast, the initial tone – makes it seem like it’ll be a kind of Shane Black film, maybe even a bit True Lies. I don’t know the name for those sorts of movies, but they’re films that are perfect examples of their genre while also deconstructing it. This film doesn’t have bite
    comparatively. I think I’m on to something here but can’t crack how to verbalise it – it’s like they deconstructed the genre but couldn’t figure out
    how to reconstruct it in a way that said anything new, so put it back the way they found it. I think it primes you to think it might have something more interesting than it does about the genre.

    Saying that though – I did find it interesting to compare to other examples of the genre. I think you can chart, in action films of the US and UK, the audience’s changing relationship with the state and patriotism and all that – we’ve gone from this genre being basically a byword for patriotic, propagandist cinema of the ‘good, loyal state agents vs evil russians’ 1980s variety to ‘good, loyal-if-independent-minded agents working to save the good parts of the system from the parts that are rotting’ of the 2000s and 2010s (see ethan hunt and alec baldwin, Bond and M vs C), to this – which I think is lowkey almost radical – unintentionally- in how in no way is any part of the system or security infrastructure seen as in any way valuable, functional or worth saving.

    And, as bleak as the system is presented as in this, the ‘moral’ characters in this aren’t really moral at all in any meaningful sense. I think where Bond and Hunt work to save a breaking system from itself, The Gray Man and Billy Bob are, when you break it down a bit – incredibly amoral and entirely concerned with their own orbits – I think the film kind of doesn’t hesitate to question the way Billy Bob here orchestrates the deaths of people he has a duty of care towards – eg his crew on the plane – in order to buy his niece time. Something that would be the heel turn in most films is just presented as straightforwardly understandable here. This might sound really dumb but I was watching this going ‘you know, I think this really reflects the times in a way – society’s broken’.

  16. KayKay, I don’t think Ryan O’Neal was ever up for this…

  17. pegs, you KNOW I meant Ryan Seacrest

  18. Watched this last night and it was generally enjoyable. Agree that some of the lighting and smoke/steam/other visual obstruction choices were really good ideas that made the whole thing more interesting. I never lost track of any of the action, so I don’t know what movie the people claiming it was incoherently edited are talking about. Even the plane crash sequence was handled pretty cleanly and efficiently, I thought. I always knew what was going on. The FAST & FURIOUS-style “physics? LOL” part where Gosling leaps from the crashing-through-buildings tram onto de Armas’s car hood and doesn’t immediately die was much more annoying to me; it had that same “kid playing with Matchbox cars” feeling that I get from the recent F&F movies.

    One thing that bugged me a lot were certain ostentatious swooping drone camera shots that would, for example, follow a car driving away or something. I don’t know why, but there was something about the smoothness of the motion that made it seem faked even though it (probably) wasn’t.

    I’m generally anti-Gosling; the only thing I’ve ever even liked him in a little was THE NICE GUYS, and that was because he got beaten up and injured a lot. He was kind of a replacement level “action film lead” here, but he’s just…not…a…good…actor. I mean, can you fucking IMAGINE how much better this movie would have been with the entire same cast, but with Frank Grillo in the Gosling role? Chris Evans danced circles around him for the entire movie, just being gleefully hateful. He should go back to playing pricks and bastards full-time, he’s really good at it.

    Final verdict: 3.5 out of 5. Not sorry I watched it, but zero interest in any sequels.

  19. Michaelangelo McCullar

    July 30th, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    Man, IDGAF I really enjoyed this. Give me Asshole Chris Evans and you already have me halfway in the bag. Pair that with Wiseass Rysn Gosling and you got me hooked. I had no issues with any of the action. I had fun. It was a good weekend matinee movie, and I mean that in the best way. I think we’ve all forgotten the pleasures of a really good matinee flick. And I could care less about the budget. I didn’t pay for it.

  20. So much effort and money put into something so proudly generic.

    As somebody who really enjoyed the Russos’ Marvel work, its shocking how the guys behind THE WINTER SOLDIER have fallen this hard, along the way gaining apparently massive egos which people are willing to give talented assholes a pass if they deliver. When they don’t, well you’re only half that. Its weird how for EXTRACTION despite its boiler plate script at least you had good kickass action setpieces with Thor embracing his inner Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here we don’t even have good action scenes!

    (Chris Evans and his douche stache has some fun, but not enough.)

    I’ll recommend others instead check out KATE from last year: another Netflix action movie with similar plot beats (assassin becomes a target, only “family” being a handler, befriends a young girl that has to be rescued, etc.) but its got good crisp action scenes (David Leitch produced it so yeah one of the JOHN WICK directors involved, you hoped for that!) with a terrific Winstead lead performance. I mean like GRAY MAN, KATE isn’t interested in reinventing genre ritualisms but it’s got energy and worth a watch.

  21. Man I lowered my expectations to rock-bottom and still managed to be disappointed by this one. Just a flat, uninvolving bore of a movie, made all the more headscratching by the fact that it cost $30 million more to make than Top Gun Maverick while delivering 1/10th the spectacle. There’s just nothing in this movie that wasn’t done better in something else first (Bourne, Man on Fire, Commando, etc….), which is par for the course these days, but the few nuggets of interestingness Vern mentions just isn’t enough to make me recommend sitting through this slog.

    I normally think Gosling is pretty good but man he kinda sinks this movie here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was a conscious decision to play it detached (aka bored) and fight stiff like a robot and no-sell any injuries he gets. It’s an interesting choice but when there’s already no emotional hook onscreen, I just found myself as bored as he was. And you have to try really hard to take away all the charisma and personality out of Ana de Armas, but congratulations Russo Bros, you finally did it. It’s her first “meh?” performance I’ve seen and I can’t believe her and Gosling had way more charisma and chemistry together when they played robots in Blade Runner 2049. (And yes, as Kaplan said, her one sequence in No Time to Die has more charm and satisfying action than her entire performance here). I wouldn’t be surprised if someone who has never seen de Armas or Gosling onscreen before watched this movie and came away thinking they were two terrible model-actors who got by on being pretty, and I wouldn’t blame them.

    I actually really like the Russo Bros – Civil War is still my favorite MCU movie and Endgame is probably the only 3 hour movie that I’ve watched multiple times that never drags for me. Their best movies hit the emotional and character and action beats that they’re aiming for – but it doesn’t even really feel like they’re aiming for anything here other than building yet another brand or a franchise or generating content or whatever. It’s their biggest misfire since You Me, and Dupree.

  22. The trapdoor was the highlight for me, but when they have ALL the money to spend I expect to be wowed. Gosling and Evans are solid. The 80s action moments were nice, but cut all the melodrama with the kid and the abusive father backstory.

    Ana and Maggie Q should team up.

  23. Interesting how this and BULLET TRAIN have come out so close together. I still liked TGM, but I had way more fun with BULLET TRAIN, which has an unabashed pace and genre trappings aplenty and a plot that’s not afraid to be kinda convoluted but coalesces more or less by the end pretty well. Perhaps a little too “clean” and artificial in some of the presentation, but it’s got coherent action and some nice stylistic camera work (there’s a sequence that’s a montage of a water bottle’s experience throughout the whole movie, shot with some sort of Dolly type set up?). It’s always great to see Brad Pitt embrace a more goofy side, even more so as the lead, while I think the rest of the cast are used really well(Bad Bunny following up an impressive Wrestlemania performance last year with a memorable action movie debut), even when they have less screen time than you’d expect. One exception to this though: it feels like a crime to have Karen Fukuhara in your action movie, and not have her do any action! Recognising her in the trailer and seeing her being used in certain promotional materials I expected her character would be far more than she appeared to be, but sadly not.

  24. BULLETT TRAIN was fun but there was a lot of cute going on there. It makes sense now that I realize it’s the same director as HOBBS AND SHAW and DEADPOOL 2. I think AUTOMIC BLONDE is going to be the outlier in his resume.

  25. Time will reveal ATOMIC BLONDE to be a severely underrated and grossly mis-marketed uber stylish and wickedly entertaining action spy thriller, one of the few times when “from the director of John Wick” should have been kept out of the promotional material. I like it more every time I see it.

    Now, can I kindly advise everyone to delete this anemic Gray Man from your Netflix queue and add on the exhilarating CARTER?

  26. To be clear, I love ATOMIC BLONDE. When I say it’s the outlier, I mean it’s not goofy like the others.

  27. Oh, I absolutely got that from your post. Just voicing out how underrated I think it is.

    And I also do not require my action movies to have this constant undercurrent of goofiness or black comedy or whatever it is that mandates jokes fly as fast as bullets.

    It’s quite refreshing to catch something like EXTRACTION or the recent THE TERMINAL LIST which I binged on Amazon Prime and see guys like Hemsworth and Pratt ditch the lovable buffoon routine and play it serious. Like Dead “Get outta my way motherfucker or I’m going to empty this barrel in your face” Serious.

  28. FWIW, the Japanese book it’s based on is supposedly really funny and over the top too. I was surprised to learn the Thomas thing was lifted from that.

  29. I got around to seeing this over the weekend, and I thought it was pretty good. It’s a solid action movie with a few laughs and a genuinely fun villain thanks to Chris Evans. When Billy Bob Thorton reveals that he’s holding a live grenade, Evans calls him a douche and then blocks the blast with one of his henchmen. That’s a genuinely great moment in cinema.

    You could absolutely nitpick this film. When it comes to the big action scenes, it seems like the longer they went along, the more indifferent the editing is. The set pieces aren’t on the level of John Wick, but they’re mostly discernible. And the abusive dad supblot is just one bit of melodrama too much. It should have been cut completely.

    I thought The Grey Man was better than the brothers’ Captain America movies, which might be the most overrated Marvel films out there. The film isn’t a slam dunk, and I get that some people might not like it, but I genuinely don’t understand some of the vitriol directed at this film online.

  30. An odd duck this one.

    All in all, I had a good time and the word “matinee movie” that played a lot in the comments I think fits greatly.
    The leads are charismatic and I liked both Gosling’s “matter of fact” observations / quips and captain America’s over the top-ness. On the action front you get a mixed bag. Good to great fight choreography gets chopped to 100 pieces, and although you can still enjoy it, you find yourself thinking “why would somebody in 2022 not learn-borrow-steal from theJohn Wick/ Atomic Blonde / nobody template of CLEAN ACTION BEATS”?

    Also, for a 200 million action movie, it suffers from the last couple of fast/furious movies “cgi is king let’s make it a cartoon” aesthetic. The tram sequence had some great thing in it, but they HAD to finish it with a cartoonish cgi “tram demolishes half a square while the hero defies physics and everything looks painted”. The plane sequence was also fine up until it turned to a scooby doo cartoon when they get out of the plane.

    2 biggest misses on the casting part for me :

    1. How in the name of Zeus do you have Ana De Armas in 3/4 of your movie and she exhumes ZERO charisma and sex appeal??????? The last bond movie was 3 Frickin hours long and all everybody talks about is the 10 minutes with Ana De Armas. Why?!?! Why are you making hair / make up / costume design purposefully a bland unappealing mess when she is georgious? Why is her performance so subdued, in a movie where the villain and 99% of the cast are playing vaudeville Theatre? Why ON EARTH is there no romantic allure / sexual tension between the two leads? It’s a romp, it’s not a gritty movie. Spice it up a bit.

    2. This one I didn’t see anybody else mentioning. WHY did they so woefully misuse Rege-Jean Page here? To the point where nobody, not even Vern had something to say about him. The guy was hailed as the second coming of sex-appeal after Bridgerton, anointed the unofficial next James Bond based on his charisma alone etc. What kind of role is this for him?? The douche, unlikable, HUMORLESS suit????????
    Put the man in the action. You got shirtless Gosling and “guns out” Chris Evans? Do something with Rege too. Have him be part of the action. Have him quip, have him fight get bloodied, show him do something.

  31. Petros – Yes, I’ve never seen Bridgerton and this is the first time I’ve seen Rege-Jean Page in anything – and my first thought was…”wait, why does anyone want him to play Bond again?” Maybe that’s a testament to his chamelonic qualities or something, but I literally felt like “nerdy office sub-villain” was the role he was born to play while watching him here. It’s a role Tim Blake Nelson or Corey Stoll or Peter Sarsgaard would have played and probably have. That’s not saying it’s a thankless role – Edward Norton is basically the same guy in Bourne Legacy but he managed to be intriguing and make an impression. Page gets nothing to do here and nothing he or Henwick does makes me want to see their characters in a sequel anytime soon.

  32. I feel like the current crop of celebrities is full of individuals that 30 ROCK would call “sex idiots.” Undeniably attractive people with little personality beyond a certain sensual sincerity, they tend to come off as charisma-free vacuums to those who are not currently in their thrall. Maybe this type has always been around, but it’s been made especially noticeable lately with all these legacy sequels, in which all these gorgeous young people giving earnest, believable performances are absolutely blown off the screen by the less-beautiful but full of personality original cast. (This was particularly egregious in 5CREAM, which just reminded you of how everyone in the first one was a star in the making.) This may be a generational thing, but there seem to be a lot of Next Big Things nowadays who seem to favor a certain generic dramatic quality over any particular charm or X-factor.

    Or maybe I’m full of shit and just think the young people we got nowadays are boring.

  33. Scream 5 basically shows that yeah this type HAS always been around, Yeah the original cast is way better than the new ‘uns, but think of the other movies of the time…I Know What You Did Last Summer…ONE actor of the main cast that’s halfway interesting. Urban Legends? Same.

    And it’s sort of interesting because even Neve Campbell has sort of grandfathered into being interesting, cause while I think she’s perfectly fine, she WAS the talented enough WB actress to put in the movie and have the lead role. I feel like she’s interesting only because she’s still around.

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