There’s a twist in the first third of The Gray Man that changes the entire tone of the movie. It’s the kind of thing that transforms the movie from a passable, escapist spy flick to a heart-pounding film that you care about. Just released on Netflix, The Gray Man is easily the best action movie of 2022, but what’s surprising is that it actually has a lot of heart. If you’re looking for a late-night streaming option that feels like you just went to the movie theater, The Gray Man delivers. But, maybe share headphones with your partner; this movie gets loud. No spoilers ahead.
The Gray Man is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who, are forever famous as the duo who directed several game-changing Marvel movies, including Avengers: Endgame. In 2021, the brothers told Fatherly that they “find men at their funniest when they’re self-effacing or when they lack self-awareness.” This trick is on full display in The Gray Man which gives us a low-key self-effacing badass in the form of agent Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) paired with an utterly hateable Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans.) Both spend the bulk of the movie trying to beat the crap out of each other, and both, manage, on more than one occasion to make you crack a smile.
Without spoiling the exact plot, and that great early emotional twist, the easiest way to describe The Gray Man is to say that it’s like the latest James Bond movie, No Time To Die, except it’s fun. In fact, the thrilling opening sequence, in which Agent Miranda (Ana de Armas) teams up with Six (Gosling) feels like an alternate take from a Daniel Craig-era Bond. Having de Armas, who played an agent in No Time To Die, there certainly helps with this feeling, but Gosling also channels some of 2011 Drive energy, which makes him instantly believable and likable. Thanks to Gosling’s everyman shorthand, you’re rooting for Six even before you know why. If Daniel Craig’s legacy as 007 is “Grumpy Bond,” Gosling’s vibe in The Gray Man is “quippy faux-Bond.”
Because the Russos are smart, the movie walks a fine line between being overly referential to other action flicks like Bond or Mission: Impossible and just being its own thing. Yes, when teased about his codename, Six does joke “007 was taken,” but the context in which this joke happens is actually sweet. The Gray Man isn’t trying to reinvent the action movie genre, but this story isn’t exactly by-the-numbers.
Instead, the Russos are playing with the basic armature of a Bourne Identity-type thriller, but spinning it with their own unique way of making all the characters feel relatable, even if they’re really not. This is a trick they pulled with dialogue in the various Avengers movies, and it works here, too. The Gray Man is at its best when it’s not trying too hard, but also when the audience isn’t expecting too much. Just when you think the movie is going to go one way, and you let your guard down, something happens to make you pay attention again.
A stellar supporting cast helps keep the pace lively. From Billy Bob Thorton to Regé-Jean Page, to Alfre Woodard, again, this Netflix movie makes you feel like you went out and got popcorn, candy, and everything else. Because the movie reportedly cost $200 million to make — the most for a Netflix standalone — there’s a sense that the film should earn that huge budget. And it does, several, several times over.
Unlike something like Red Notice, in which it felt like several famous people were just getting together to collect a paycheck from Netflix, The Gray Man feels like a real movie. It’s not a perfect one, and if there’s not a sequel or some kind of continuation, it may feel like a bit of a letdown. But, if The Gray Man has only one flaw it’s that, at times, it feels almost too efficient and too fast. In the moments where the movie lingers on great character moments with Ryan Gosling and the always fantastic Julia Butters, the whole feeling of the story is elevated. That said, as much as Gosling sells this great character, and Butter steals the show, special mention should be made of Chris Evans, who is easily at his most evil since Knives Out. If The Gray Man is the faux-Bond, then Evans is clearly the best Bond villain of all time.
With incredible set pieces, great, dynamic, and unique action scenes, wonderful chases, and a warm, uplifting story, The Gray Man is more than just a generic action movie. It’s proof that this genre can be more than just cartoonish violence and explosions. Sometimes, these movies are about love. Let’s just hope that after this, Agent Six returns.
The Gray Man is streaming now on Netflix.