REVIEW: The Gray Man is basically John Wick on a James Bond budget
The new Netflix $200 million blockbuster will actually debut in Irish cinemas this week.
Sometimes two negatives can make a positive.
Take a look at Netflix's blockbuster output: Red Notice, 6 Underground, The Adam Project, Bright, Army of the Dead, The Midnight Sky, Project Power. A list of movies that range from completely forgettable to flat-out bad.
And then, outside of the (admittedly very good) Marvel movies that the Russo Brothers have directed, the rest of their CV is... far less impressive: Welcome to Collinwood, You Me and Dupree, Cherry. All pretty poor.
So it brings us great pleasure to report that Netflix giving The Russo Brothers a healthy $200 million to direct a spy blockbuster has resulted in something that can now officially be the streaming service's best action movie to date. Admittedly, a fairly low bar to cross, but still.
Having said that, don't go expecting anything ground-breaking, either. The Gray Man is equal parts Wick and Bond, but by trying to have it both ways, it doesn't quite stick the landing on either. The slinkily vicious basic-ness of Keanu Reeves' hit franchise doesn't fold well into the bombastic, wide-audience appeal of modern Bond.
It results in a series of action sequences - some great, some good, some quite literally difficult to watch thanks to shoddy CGI - parsed out across a very simple story told in an unnecessarily complicated way.
Six (Ryan Gosling) is a black ops CIA mercenary recruited out of a prison (tragic backstory alert!) by his handler Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton). For his latest mission, issued by new operatives leader Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), he has been sent to Bangkok to assassinate a target, who turns out to be Four, another member of the same black ops team.
Retrieving a MacGuffin filled with vital data that will blow this whole conspiracy wide open, Six is forced to go on the run, so Carmichael hires freelance sociopath Lloyd (Chris Evans) to take out Six, while fellow agent Dani (Ana De Armas) tries to figure out who is really the bad guy in all of this.
The action jumps from Asia to pretty much all of mainland Europe, and along the way we get a huge fight scene on a crashing plane, several impressive hand-to-hand combat scenes, and the trailer's centrepiece, a massive car chase and shoot-out around an out-of-control tram.
A lot of the action itself is impressive in its detail and scale, if some of it is weirdly obscured by the obvious intrusion of a digital blur. Remember that gorgeous practical action from Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Yeah, that has been partly replaced by not-great CGI for the movie's biggest effects scene.
On the other hand, pretty much everyone involved is clearly having a ball. Evans has doubled-down on his Knives Out arsehole character, making for a truly detestable but incredibly-fun-to-watch boo-hiss villain, while Gosling brings the same sarcastic charm he had in Crazy Stupid Love, but bolts on the ability to snap necks. They make for a pretty great pairing, even if their scenes together are few and far between.
And then there is the way the story is told, with unnecessary flashbacks and flash-forwards and purposefully withheld information, probably designed to keep the audience guessing and on our toes, but instead keeps us very mildly confused. Thankfully, the plot barely matters, and we'll either have another well-shot fight scene or witty one-liner before too long.
In the end, this is probably the first Netflix action movie we'd fully recommend checking out in the cinema, if only to see a big-screen action movie that doesn't involve a superhero this summer. After that, you'll likely revisit it on the streaming service, but skipping the plot bits to get to the explosions.
The Gray Man arrives in Irish cinemas on Friday, 15 July, before being available on Netflix on Friday, 22 July.
Clips via Netflix