Netflix reportedly dropped $200 million on Anthony and Joe Russo’s The Gray Man. This is puzzling, considering the fact that the movie barely had any sort of theatrical window (which thee Russo’s, who have the 2nd highest grossing movie ever, apparently don’t care about). So, how do they profit off of it? It’s also puzzling because Netflix released a statement about a month ago saying that they weren’t going to be indulging auteurs and their “vanity projects, like The Irishman” (no Scorsese slander allowed in my household, and that movie is a banger), but they’ll spend $200 million on a star-studded B-movie that probably would’ve done decent business theatrically?
Here’s the real shocker though: I happened to enjoy this $200 million dollar star-studded B-movie. That’s right, similar to last month’s Spiderhead (which also featured an Avenger having a villainous ball), I was surprised by what a good time I had with it. Perhaps it’s because my expectation of a straight-to-Netflix release is typically pretty low, even if hotties like Ryan Gosling and Ana De Armas are thrown into it. These movies, more often than not, are disposable. Not to sound pretentious, but the only time these Netflix movies grab my attention is something like The Irishman (which I saw in theatres), Mank (which was a stunner on the big screen), or The Power of the Dog. Otherwise, I know that what we’re getting just isn’t anything special.
Which, admittedly, is the case with The Gray Man. Except that, again, maybe because the bar is so low, I didn’t mind. Surely, Ryan Gosling (his first movie in four years), Ana De Armas, and Chris Evans would sign up for something salvageable. In a way, no. Because this is a movie with a nothing plot and it’s all been done before, and probably just as expensively. Yet with that expense, I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, I wish I could’ve seen this in a theatre.” The fact that I truly mean that has to be to the film’s credit. This IS the kind of summer blockbuster to watch in an air conditioned room. I guess that room just happened to be my living room, and in that living room, I had a good time.
When saying that the movie has a nothing plot, well, yeah, it does. Often times I wasn’t sure who was doing what or why they were doing it, but even then, they looked pretty cool doing it, so it got a pass. Gosling plays a guy codenamed “Six.” Six is a part of a governmental squad who essentially carry out hits or something, and he was recruited because of his lack of family and/or maybe a criminal background. It turns out that Rege-Jean Page’s Carmichael has been up to no good, and that a chip holds the evidence to prove it. A chip that Six happens to have. So Carmichael sends a dangerous mo-fo named Lloyd Hansen (Evans) to kill Six and get the chip, while they also kidnap Six’s boss (Billy Bob Thornton) and his daughter (Julia Butters, brilliant in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). De Armas plays one of Six’s allies, as does Alfre Woodard, who simply looks incredible.
Despite maybe a CGI shot or two, I will say that The Gray Man looks pretty good, and expensive. This isn’t an outing like Red Notice where a bunch of pretty people are in front of a green screen on autopilot. The Russo’s, despite missing their mark with last year’s Cherry, do have a good sense of how to deliver spectacle, and there were action sequences in this film that left me going, “Huh, that’s pretty cool.” The movie also has a color pallet that may be overworked, but it’s undeniably pretty.
What ultimately pulled me into the fun though was its cast. Can we just talk for a second about Julia Butters? Her last movie was directed by Quentin Tarantino, and starred Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, and Al Pacino, among others. Her next movie, The Fabelmans, is directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Paul Dano, and David Lynch. She’s also in this movie, which will ultimately pale in comparison, but I mean, whew, my girl is thriving. It’s good to have Gosling back, but funnier to think that the next time we see him will be in Barbie. Everyone else here does what’s required, but what ultimately makes this movie worth your time is Chris Evans.
I’ll just come out and say this: I don’t think he’s ever had more fun. Obviously I can’t speak for him, but I think it’s a fair assumption. He’s of course great as Captain America, but watching The Gray Man, I kept thinking that this is what he’s been wanting to do as an actor all along. You know what his first movie was post Endgame? Knives Out, where he was anything but a heroic figure. He’s probably been itching to do this sort of thing for a long time, and now that he’s been given the chance to do it, he really lives up to the task, in a performance that I found really entertaining and often rather funny.
By the time The Gray Man reached its conclusion, I wondered if what I’d seen had really, fully worked. Because the movie doesn’t do anything that’s great. Yet I pretty much always enjoyed what it was doing (funny enough, I gave this and Marcel the Shell With Shoes On the same rating, although that movie is obviously better). For me, going to the theatre and simply watching something on Netflix isn’t the same. I’m far more immersed if I’m in a theatre. Which may be why The Gray Man wasn’t given a theatrical window. Maybe they kind of figured that this is a movie people would half-watch on their phones. So you don’t need to be immersed. I get it. As mentioned before, the straight-to-Netflix releases aren’t usually my bag, but this one happened to pass the time just well enough. It’s nothing to write home about, but you’ll probably be watching it in your home anyways.
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