Back to back movie posts? Apparently so. I’m not going to bother with spoiler protection, though, since there’s honestly not much to spoil in this one.
During this week-long heatwave one of my few fun ways to pass the time once I shut my main space heater (aka “the computer”) off after the workday is to stream shows and videos and movies on the Chromebook (which generates far less heat than the beefy PC). Out of morbid curiosity, last night I decided to check out the much-hyped new Netflix action fluff, The Gray Man, which seems to want to be something along the lines of Jason Bourne meets John Wick, kind of, maybe, a bit. Its big draw is supposedly that it’s made by The Russo Brothers who, nobody will ever let you forget, are responsible for some big Marvel Movie tentpole film successes. Oh, and it stars Ryan Gosling’s Wry Smirk as “Six” and Chris “That Is America’s Ass” Evans as… Lloyd, I think? Sure.
To be fair to this and similar films, there have always been by-the-numbers action-adventure yarns. The mass production of such forgettable fare is nearly as old as the medium itself. While the history of cinema seems to be filled with memorable classics, it’s worth remembering that those classics were outliers in their time, too.
So I’ll give The Gray Man this much: Nearly every individual moment of the movie looks well-made. Rarely does it look cheap, every shot is at least competent and sometimes moderately clever, and set pieces do what set pieces do. Also, Chris Evans seems to have had at least a few moments of fun in the making of this, since he gets to do all the hammy bad-guy stuff.
Also? There are no Love Interests. Full marks for that. Any time you see a woman, she’s there to do (relatively) interesting things, insofar as anything interesting actually happens here. When Six’s Lady Partner showed up I dreaded the nigh-inevitable hookup sequence but nope! Well done, movie. Pat on the back.
On the downside, very few of the actors (other than Evans, and whoever played The Guy With The Oubliette) seem to be having much fun. (Gosling might have, but I couldn’t really tell.) Emotional modes run the gamut from stoic to grumpy, with occasional snarkiness. Six’s Mentor (Billy Bob Thornton, whose stoic grumpiness is at least character-appropriate) is reliably good here, while Six’s Mentor’s Niece Claire is… well, she’s kind of weird, in a “does anyone involved in this movie actually know how teenaged girls work” way. The stuffed suits are just We’re From The Government And We’re Here To Help Ourselves in fancy suits and dim lighting. Six’s Lady Partner is… mostly just moderately peeved competence from start to finish.
And if it seems like I’m being too lazy to look up the rest of the actual character or actor names, that’s because this movie isn’t worth the effort. If they were that forgettable, they deserve forgetting.
I know that it’s not really worth getting upset by some of the absurdities in this kind of movie, like the inability of various nameless baddies to hit the side of a building from arm’s length with ridiculous amounts of fired bullets while the protagonists easily pick off their opponents, sometimes through solid obstacles based on reflections in glass or the sound of creaking floorboards. (Yeah, that happens. Okay.)
I am, however, unable to suspend disbelief to the point that a massive daylight firefight that results in huge property damage and an unknown number of casualties (including a lot of bystanders and police) doesn’t result in a full military cordon and isn’t the most talked about news story everywhere for weeks afterward. Oh, and Our Numerical Hero (see, he’s known only as “Six” and yes, he does in fact make a “double oh seven was taken” joke, ha ha) is handcuffed to a railing on a low wall for almost the entire event and somehow manages not to get absolutely riddled with bullet holes.
Chris Evans even gets to lampshade this, which… I’m not sure helps, honestly: “How hard can it be to shoot a guy who’s handcuffed to a wall?” Yeah, we’re wondering that too, pal.
And all of this I could shrug off as “well that’s how these movies go” if it weren’t for the ending. Endings. Non-ending. Whatever. If a movie can stick the landing I’ll forgive it a lot of sins. Too bad for The Gray Man, then.
Let’s bullet-list our way through the wrap-up:
- The final showdown at the fountain in the hedge maze. No, Six, you idiot, you let your sniper take the shot and end the situation with the evil jerkface, you don’t take his “let’s settle this like men” bait. I don’t care about you being genre-savvy, I just want you to not be an absolute doofus.
- The not-really-a-surprise reveal that the stuffed-suit lady we’re more-or-less supposed to sympathize with, who has been set up to be the one who cleans up the mess caused by the various powerful baddies… is one of the powerful baddies herself. I mean, okay, fine. What a TWEEEST. Yawn.
- And that means that… the baddies won? I mean, poor scenery-chewing Chris Evans is out but the stuffed suits pulling the strings are getting away with everything.
- The McGuffin which started the plot rolling in the first place is destroyed and… yeah, the evil stuffed suits won. What. And Six’s Lady Partner is… going along with this because of Claire for some reason.
- But the stuffed suits go to visit Six in a heavily secured hospital-ish space but… oh no, he’s escaped and left a body count in his wake! The suits each take a soldier and split up to go stalking the halls looking for Six!
- And nothing comes of that. At all. End scene. To be 100% clear: The evil stuffed suit people who absolutely Have It Coming do not get any of what they have coming. What.
- Meanwhile or later or something, Six managed to sneak into the house where Claire’s being kept. He left a note for her to play an ancient (from her perspective) song on her cheap old record player, which is absolutely a thing kids do. (Yes, it’s a callback to an earlier scene that also didn’t make a lick of sense.) This is so she’ll have something to listen to while he loudly kills every last guard in and around the building.
- Which… if he could sneak into her room in the first place, he could almost certainly sneak her out without killing every last guard in and around the building. Going by action movie logic, at least.
- She’s absolutely anguished by all the killing going on, so much for the record player thing, but she’s happy to see him once the killing’s done and they leave together anyway, and that’s our… happy ending?
In conclusion, The Gray Man does not even remotely stick the landing. And the fact (I didn’t know until this morning) that it’s intended to have a sequel doesn’t excuse the ham-handed mess that is the last couple dozen minutes of the film.
For those who liked and enjoyed the movie, good for you, I’m glad you had a good time. For those who aren’t sure if they should or shouldn’t watch it… well, I’m certainly not recommending it.