‘The Gray Man’ Review Roundup: A ‘Throwback’ Action Movie That’s ‘Listless’ and Full of ‘Tropes and Cliches’

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Wednesday night was the premiere of “The Gray Man,” the Russo Brothers’ ambitious action thriller that, with a budget of $200 million, is the most expensive movie Netflix has ever made. On Thursday, the review embargo for the film lifted, bringing with it a generally underwhelmed response from critics.

The film stars Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans as Court Gentry and Lloyd Hansen. Gentry is on the run from Hansen after coming into possession of top-secret CIA information, and Hansen is unforgiving in his efforts to chase Gentry down. Ana de Armas also stars as Dani Miranda, alongside Regé-Jean Page, Jessica Henwick, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard and Billy Bob Thornton.

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Overall, most critics agree that “The Gray Man” is an over-the-top attempt by Netflix to capture the magic of blockbuster thrillers like the 007 movies. Gosling, Evans, de Armas and their co-stars show their talents, but the majority of reviews criticize its cliched script and breakneck pacing. Despite some issues, a few critics conceded that even with its flaws, the film is still a fun watch, and the strong ensemble makes it worth a viewer’s time to see what this big-budget blockbuster is really about.

Read some highlights of what critics are saying below:

Variety’s Peter Debruge:

There’s nothing terribly original about the storytelling. Take a little of “Shooter,” a lot of “John Wick,” add a dash of Jason Bourne, shaken (but not stirred) into the license-to-kill formula, and you’ve got the basic idea. What makes “The Gray Man” exciting — and let’s not beat around the bush: This is the most exciting original action property Netflix has delivered since “Bright” — are the shades the ensemble bring to their characters and the little ways in which the Russos come through where those other films fell short.

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich:

So begins a “blockbuster” so big that you can actually feel the price of your Netflix subscription going up with each new scene, this listless simulacrum of a summer action movie bouncing from one lavish Asian or European location to the next as it searches in vain for the streamer’s first bonafide popcorn franchise. The algorithmic results don’t reflect well on the Russo brothers’ directing chops — their monumental spandex operas seldom required and never displayed the kind of muscular imagination needed to stage Michael Bay-like fight sequences — but “The Gray Man” is even more damning for Netflix itself, particularly so far as it epitomizes the streamer’s penchant for producing mega-budget movies that feel like glorified deepfakes of classic multiplex fare.

The AV Club’s Luke Y. Thompson:

For the most part, Netflix’s The “Gray Man” is a damn delight. It’s a throwback to the days when studios could safely rely on throwing a couple of A-listers at an action script and some big explosions, give it a competent director, and have a hit on their hands. Frequently more fun and escapist than some of the recent James Bond films, it’s also based on a book character (though not highly advertised as such). Ryan Gosling plays Mark Greaney’s freelance assassin and former CIA operative Court Gentry, a name the movie largely eschews in favor of his code designation, Sierra Six. For Gosling fans whose favorite movie was Drive, this feels like a slightly pumped up, dumbed-down version of that character, with significantly more to say about how he doesn’t actually have more to say.

Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt:

But Evans, smirking like a catbird, is the movie’s main antagonist, and his pairing with Gosling is the pretty-man Godzilla vs. Kong most viewers came to see. Though he’s played Captain America for Anthony and Joe Russo many times over, most recently in “Avengers: Endgame,” the actor seems positively giddy every time he gets to flip to the role of, as some have fondly come to call him, America’s A-hole. Here everything about Lloyd, from his fascist little mustache to his schoolyard taunts, delights him; against Six’s wry cool-guy remove, he’s the leering frat-boy jester, pretty much begging to be punched in that perfectly symmetrical face.

IGN’s Siddhant Adlakha:

The majority of the cast is similarly shackled by the edit’s need to zip from scene to scene without a lasting human moment. De Armas isn’t so much doe-eyed as she is a deer in the headlights; she’s a more than capable actress, but she struggles here to so much as spin a questioning glance from the story’s abyss. Even poor Jessica Henwick, who plays Carmichael’s second in command, is saddled only with occasional objections and observations about Hansen’s destructive methods, in order to give the film the appearance of conscience or dilemma — the CIA needs to assassinate people the “right” way, quietly and legally; how brave — until “The Gray Man” recalls that Henwick may be useful in some potential sequel, granting her a last-second usefulness that only serves to rob tension from existing scenes.

Forbes’ Scott Mendelson:

Gosling says and does little of entertainment value, which is more about the screenplay that positions him as a generic action figure. Ditto Ana de Armas as Gosling’s reluctant tag-along gal. Evans chews up the scenery, but most of his one-liners and zingers come off as preordained memes and gif moments that exist in a vacuum. All three of them do little more than remind us of better movies where they played similar characters. Billy Bob Thornton and Alfre Woodard, playing two elder agents trying to survive with dignity as the world passes them by, do their best to elevate their material. Rising star Julia Butters holds her own even though she is quickly made a full-time hostage/damsel. Perhaps by default, the attempt by this film to recapture the glory days of the Hollywood action movie can’t help but revert to past-their-time tropes and cliches.

USA Today’s Brian Truitt:

In their post-Marvel work, the Russos have notably given their superhero stars room to stretch. Last year’s ambitious “Cherry” allowed Tom Holland to flex some dramatic muscles beyond getting in a Spider-Man suit, and “The Gray Man” lets Evans deliciously explore his wicked side. Yes, he is the best of the “Chrises,” and him doing a complete 180 from virtuous Captain America proves that once again: Lloyd yells at underlings, goes punch for punch and snark for snark with Gosling, and absolutely owns a plethora of clever zingers like, “If you want to make an omelet, you gotta kill some people.” If you’re craving an overblown action movie, “The Gray Man” is probably worth a stream for him alone, a devilish villain playing an otherwise forgettable spy game.

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