It’s surprising Ryan Gosling hasn’t yet suited up as a superhero on screen. That glib, almost blase persona, with a deadpan sense of humour, is calling out for a superhero outing. Maybe one in the mould of Deadpool — going easy on the ‘Merc with a mouth’ bit — incidentally played by his namesake Ryan Reynolds. Gosling has, in fact, expressed a desire to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain Canada. His co-star in The Gray Man, Chris Evans, plays Captain America in the MCU. We are kind of manifesting this.
But first, The Gray Man. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo — who can be safely dubbed as the ‘marvel men’ of not only Marvel but also of the big-screen, big-stakes Hollywood blockbuster — Gosling hits the ground running in this big-budget globe-trotting thriller, now streaming on Netflix. He isn’t a superhero here, but he sure feels like one. Recruited into the CIA straight from prison, where he’s doing time for murder, Gosling’s Courtland Gentry becomes Sierra Six (“007 was taken,” he smiles, tongue firmly in cheek), a part of the agency’s covert ops designed to do its “dirty work”. Six, along with his colleagues, operates largely in the grey. Hence the name of the film, based on the book of the same name, the first of Mark Greaney’s 11 in the series.
The action in The Gray Man swings from Bangkok to Baku, Hong Kong to Vienna, Berlin to Prague. The story spans the globe but is limited in scope. Employing every trope familiar to the genre, the Russos build a film that relies heavily on its action set pieces, but its story has the feel of leftovers from other films. At one point, it’s Man on Fire. At another, it’s Extraction. For most of it, it’s a predictable action thriller playing out between the good guy and the bad guy.
The bad guy in The Gray Man is played by Chris Evans with fiendish fun. His Lloyd Hansen is repeatedly dubbed a “sociopath”, a man so off the rails that even the CIA didn’t want to employ him full-time. But the agency now needs Hansen to take on Six. Evans has some of the best one-liners in the film, which he manages to pull off even in unbelievably tight white pants. He also sports a moustache, dismissed as “trash tache” by Six in their first faceoff. It’s a lot of fun, till it starts getting repetitive.
Lloyd blows up almost half of Europe in pursuit of Six. Which gives us, even while sitting on our couches at home, a spectacle comprising some scintillating set pieces. Like that one scene the Russos have dubbed a “movie within a movie” — which reportedly alone cost $40 million. In a picturesque Prague square, Six remains handcuffed to a bench as he confronts waves upon waves of assassins. Or that one where he makes a daredevil escape from a plane mid-air. Or that powwow in the dark, almost deliberately choreographed to Mark Lindsay’s Silver Bird. Or the final fireworks, with Six in all-guns-blazing mode. The Russos go in as big as it gets, ensuring that even if the story feels pedestrian and predictable, the film — gunplay to wit and repartee — consistently remains watchable.
Somewhere in the middle of the madness, Dhanush pops in with three lines and at least one good action sequence. Ana de Armas, now fast becoming a staple in films of this genre, does her bit, and the young Julia Butters runs away with some of the best lines. Rege Jean-Page, familiar from Bridgerton, is however dealt a mean hand and so is Billy Bob Thornton.
Which brings us back to Gosling, who carries the film in more ways than one. That superhero film with him is just waiting to be greenlit. Maybe right after he’s done playing an over-epilated Ken in his next film Barbie. Go, figure.
THE GRAY MAN
Director: Joe Russo & Anthony Russo
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Billy Bob Thornton, Dhanush, Rege Jean-Page, Jessica Henwick, Julia Butters
Running time: 129 minutes