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The new Netflix movie, starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, has plenty of stylish action scenes, but it lacks substance.

Chris Evans a "The gray man."

Chris Evans in The Gray Man. Paul Abell/Netflix

The Gray Man, Netflix’s new action movie starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, represents everything the streaming giant wants to do as a company. Faced with stagnant subscriber growth and falling profits, the company has reportedly committed to releasing fewer projects and instead focusing on big-budget titles and top-notch talent.

As a Hollywood Reporter headline succinctly put it, the company’s strategy is “bigger, less and better.”

The Gray Man is certainly bigger: It’s the studio’s most expensive film of all time, and it plunges Evans, Gosling and fellow star Ana de Armas (“Knives Out”) into an endless series of bombastic, effects-heavy action set pieces. In the film’s defining opening sequence, Gosling’s CIA assassin (known only as “Six”) battles a rooftop target that is launching thousands of firecrackers, preparing viewers for the harrowing, breathtaking film to come.

Ultimately, The Gray Man is like Fourth of July fireworks: it’s fun to watch and you can appreciate the visual craftsmanship while caught in the moment. But you’re not watching anything new or innovative, and if someone asked you about your favorite part 30 minutes after the end, you’d struggle to articulate a single thing that happened beyond “It went boom”.

The plot

“The Gray Man” spends the first 20 minutes whisking viewers from country to country as we learn the backstory of Six (Gosling), a former inmate broken out of his cell by the CIA and serving a life sentence as an extrajudicial killer imprisonment was sentenced. His former handler (Billy Bob Thornton) is retired and Six would also like to come up with an exit plan. But when he uncovers incriminating evidence against a corrupt CIA bureaucrat (Regé-Jean Page, “Bridgeton”), Six goes from killer to target.

Since the CIA typically uses Six for not-so-legal murders like this, they turn to a loose cannon named Lloyd Hansen (Evans) instead. While Six is ​​not bound by law, Lloyd is not bound by law or any moral compass, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his pursuit.

Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling will be there
Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in The Gray Man.

The good

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (“Avengers: Endgame”) received a proverbial blank check from Netflix and left everything on screen. The brothers have always known how to direct stylish, compelling action sequences, from their early days directing the paintball episodes of Community to the four Marvel films they have directed over the past decade.

Thanks to those movies, Russians also know what they have in Evans, who gets the most laughs in The Gray Man as a cartoonishly evil antagonist. Evans sports a malicious mustache and grins his way through the film, uttering intentionally hackneyed lines like “Make him dead.”

Despite spending precious little time together on screen, the chemistry between Gosling and Evans is undeniable. In those face-to-face moments, you’ll wish The Gray Man had dropped half a dozen other characters to give these two more time to pulverize each other with their words and their fists.

The bad

The Russos have experience both parodying action procedures in Community and directing fun, hilarious superhero films for Marvel. Unfortunately, they can’t quite decide whether the tone of “The Gray Man” is tongue-in-cheek or sincere.

Gosling, who in the past has excelled at playing both a buttoned-up hitman on “Drive” and a goofy criminal on “The Nice Guys,” suffers most from the dual approach. In a moment he remembers his father drowning him in a bathtub or burning him with a cigarette lighter in the car. Minutes later, he engages in a completely blunt dialogue with de Armas’ CIA agent that seems meant to be funny and charming, but elicited no laughs in the demonstration I saw.

There’s also an interjected subplot involving the teenage daughter of Thornton’s retired CIA honcho trying to humanize Six, which doesn’t really work and isn’t needed. The less talked about it, the better.

The final result

The Gray Man is just an absolutely average action film, falling well short of Mission: Impossible and John Wick in quality, but offering enough harmless entertainment to fill two hours. Well deserved given Netflix’s on-screen spending and star pedigree – but audiences should expect more.

Should I watch The Gray Man?

Netflix is ​​bringing The Gray Man to theaters on July 15 before debuting on the streaming platform on July 22. Although action movies are always more fun on the big screen, The Gray Man isn’t good enough to be a theatrical film.

Valuation: 2 stars (out of 4).

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