The Gray Man is a $200 million homework assignment

What makes a great action movie? If you were to ask the Russo brothers, veterans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they could tell you that the surest way to enter the pantheon of great action filmmaking is to fill your film with as many drone footage of non-American cities as possible to fill. and then put the city’s name—in big white block letters, of course—on top of it.

Or at least it’s hard to imagine them answering any other way after seeing their latest offering, an incredibly expensive spy action thriller called The gray man, which released on Netflix this weekend. The film follows Six (Ryan Gosling), a witty and charming CIA assassin with a heart of gold who is on the run from his own henchmen after being sent on a mission that reveals his world is not like this , as it seems, and blah blah blah blah blah—honestly, who cares? Trying to explain what this film is about is a complete waste of time because it’s clear that nobody who made it really cares, so why should you? The movie is a mix of plot points and set pieces borrowed from every popular action movie made in the last 20 or so years, so if you’ve seen bits from the Bourne, James Bond, John Wick, or Mission: Impossible franchises, you have already seen a better version of this film. There’s a betrayed hero desperate to survive while uncovering the truth, a hot lady who always has his back, and an endless stream of fierce-faced assassins ready to go head-to-head with either. There is, of course, a precocious child to save and lots of witty banter. God there is so much Banter.

There is another version of this film where all of that could be forgiven. Nobody’s necessarily looking for a big-budget action film to reinvent the wheel, and if anyone’s looking to throw a ton of money behind a script that Frankenstein carved out of other entries in the genre and a supremely charming cast, then I say go crazy . This is a taste of trash I’ll drink without hesitation. Where The gray man does not fail because of a lack of originality, but because of its rickety construction. Netflix and the Russo brothers may have created a decent framework for a hit action movie, but then they forgot to put a film in it.

Which brings us back to all those pretty drone shots. The characters in this film ping around the globe at such a speed that concepts such as time and space no longer matter, and one gets the distinct impression that the primary concern of the people who made this film was to ensure that everyone who sees it, is satisfied, understands how much money it takes to earn it. There are, I don’t know, a dozen different action set pieces spread across more cities than I care to count, and yet The gray man manages to be one of the more boring movies I’ve seen this year. Each sequence just comes and goes, being washed away almost immediately by the next. Any good spy action thriller depends on its sequencing; Every explosion, gunfight, betrayal and revelation must be carefully sorted and layered in a way that constantly builds tension and momentum. Watching a Mission: Impossible movie is like a tasting menu, with each dish creating anticipation for the next, then watching The gray man is like putting all the trays on the table at once at an all-you-can-eat buffet and the Russo brothers run over and yell, Eat it up, piggy!

Another thing that makes a good action movie is the ability to actually see and understand what’s happening. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that did more to hide its plot from the audience. Every other battle scene is obscured by smoke from an explosion, smoke from a fire, a blinding sunrise, a flashing flashlight, smoke from a flaming torch, and even smoke from a barrage of industrial firecrackers. There’s fog and mist everywhere and so many cuts between punches and kicks that I can imagine nausea could be an issue for anyone watching it in a cinema. And then there’s the lack of editing and scene composition, making it almost impossible to understand where one character is in relation to the others during the film’s biggest action sequences. At one point, our villain Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) says, “My god, how hard is it to shoot somebody?” during a seemingly never-ending scene in which about 20 gunmen shoot at Six while he’s handcuffed to a bench is tied up in a public place. I was wondering the same thing!

What the Russo brothers don’t seem to understand is that it’s not the number of cities our hero enters, or the number of gunfights, or even the size of the explosions that makes a great action movie. It’s the little details. It’s the pained look that crosses Miles Teller’s face when the actual fighter jet he’s in hits five G’s; it’s the bloodstains left by John McClane’s glass-covered feet on a skyscraper window; It’s the brief moment Tom Cruise pauses to roll his eyes wearily before charging his opponent through a bathroom wall. Those are all things that make an action movie not only feel tangible, but like something that was actually created with a certain amount of care and attention.

in the The gray man, the Russo brothers forgo any attention to detail in favor of increasingly heaping helpings of poorly blocked and edited action sequences, each infused with a staggering amount of eerie CGI (maybe all the smoke was trying to disguise that). Within the first half hour, you can watch as Gosling “jumps” out of an exploding plane, transforming into a vivid and stretchy CGI recreation at that point, and then, blurred by computer-generated smoke and debris, ricocheting off a villain’s parachute like a video game character . It all made me feel like I was looking at something that had been done hastily and without care the night before. I should have just turned it off then.

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