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The Gray Man: a comic book movie by any other name

Netflix’s $200 million CG extravaganza bleeds color but fails to impress

The Gray Man: Look at all the pretty colors!
The Gray Man: Look at all the pretty colors!

Netflix dropped $200 million for their latest star-studded CG extravaganza The Gray Man. That’s $40 million more than the studio sprung for Scorsese’s likewise effects-driven The Irishman, making it the costliest film yet to debut on the their living room multiplex. The reviews were noxious, but that didn’t deter fans of Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, the Marvel wunderkind whose follow-up sequels to Captain America: The Winter Soldier profaned the only bright star in the otherwise dingy extragalactic accumulation that is the MCU.

The Gray Man (2022)

Despite the small-screen streaming giant hemorrhaging subscribers, this saw the 5th biggest opening in the Netflix’s history. But seeing as how I was weaned on a galaxy of Chicago’s finest single-screens, I cannot for the life of me fathom why anyone would want to watch a film that relies this heavily on visual effects on a 100-inch box. Had I just turned 18, and with a freshly minted driver’s license in my wallet, I’d have been there first day, first show. As it was, the film opened on limited release in distant venues, and with gas prices topping $6 a gallon, a 65-mile round trip to Del Mar to see the latest abomination of cinema by the boys responsible for The Avengers wasn’t meant to be. For more on this moronic comic book movie by any other name, the adventure continues online.

The film is based on the book by Mark Greany, the best-selling thriller writer who took over the Jack Ryan franchise with the late Tom Clancy’s blessings. But screenwriters Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely reduce the novelist’s pulpy tale of good assassin vs. bad assassin into something more suitable for 60# matte paper. We open in a federal prison, with an exchange between former CIA operative/convicted murderer Six (Ryan Gosling, glowering) and his handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton). There’s a big difference between minimalism and three screenwriters eager to set in motion a plot that drags viewers through a world of nothing new. (Why Six? Because 007 was spoken for.) For all we learn about these two, the disposable Tarantino-ish dialogue — most of which centers on watermelon-flavored chewing gum — could just as easily have been supplied by word bubbles. All we need know is that Six is a well-respected killing machine whose life sentence will be commuted in exchange for a lifetime commitment to killing in the name of Old Glory.

When letting the pictures do the talking proves insurmountable, it’s best to write secondary characters that don’t know when to shut their mouths. (Alan Ladd was a terrible actor, but in the right film noir lighting and with a shortage of dialogue, he could appear quite menacing.) Six’s first assignment is to shoot a bad guy through two stories of glass ceilings. It’s a feat that starts a person wondering how much better it would have looked had it been enacted on a soundstage set built to scale by a crew rather than in a miasma of pixels crafted by a guy seated before a bank of computer monitors. Like most movie hitmen, Six has a moral compass that prohibits him from murdering children. His target, known simply as Four, is one of their own. (Do the math.) Leave it to Four to always have a youngster by his side to act as a shield in the event that bullets fly. Four dies, but not before entrusting Six with an encrypted thumb drive that could bring an end to civilization as we know it, or some such nonsense.

The supporting cast didn’t come cheap. It generally takes a professional killer to take out a hired gun, hence the presence of Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans, nothing special), yet another former CIA agent who suffers from more than a hint of psychosis. Hansen is the type who’s erudite enough to quote Schopenhauer, but let Fitzroy use the word “preternatural” to describe him, and it’s a boot to the face. Rather than using a pliers to relieve Fitzroy of his fingernails, a more suitable punishment would have been ripping off the wet-cotton candy toupee — easily the worst of his career. Six is aided by fellow operative Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), whose main function is taking out baddies while draped in the latest androgynous accoutements. Her contributions to the proceedings are negligible at best, particularly in light of Suzanne Brewster (Jessica Henwick), the agent assigned to look after Six. She manages to outperform (and outact) de Armas at every turn. What the film didn’t need was the presence of Fitzroy’s niece, Claire (Julia Butters, or is it Addison Timlin?). Orphaned and saddled with a heart condition, the teenager’s sole contribution to the plot is that of serving as a kidnap victim.

Contrary to its title, the film bleeds color. It should come as no surprise that Stephen F. Windon, the man responsible for the rack and pinion camerawork, has six (not 007) Fast and Furious sequels under his belt. Add to that Henwick’s underplaying and I’ll be generous by assigning it a one-star rating.

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The Gray Man: Look at all the pretty colors!
The Gray Man: Look at all the pretty colors!

Netflix dropped $200 million for their latest star-studded CG extravaganza The Gray Man. That’s $40 million more than the studio sprung for Scorsese’s likewise effects-driven The Irishman, making it the costliest film yet to debut on the their living room multiplex. The reviews were noxious, but that didn’t deter fans of Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, the Marvel wunderkind whose follow-up sequels to Captain America: The Winter Soldier profaned the only bright star in the otherwise dingy extragalactic accumulation that is the MCU.

The Gray Man (2022)

Despite the small-screen streaming giant hemorrhaging subscribers, this saw the 5th biggest opening in the Netflix’s history. But seeing as how I was weaned on a galaxy of Chicago’s finest single-screens, I cannot for the life of me fathom why anyone would want to watch a film that relies this heavily on visual effects on a 100-inch box. Had I just turned 18, and with a freshly minted driver’s license in my wallet, I’d have been there first day, first show. As it was, the film opened on limited release in distant venues, and with gas prices topping $6 a gallon, a 65-mile round trip to Del Mar to see the latest abomination of cinema by the boys responsible for The Avengers wasn’t meant to be. For more on this moronic comic book movie by any other name, the adventure continues online.

The film is based on the book by Mark Greany, the best-selling thriller writer who took over the Jack Ryan franchise with the late Tom Clancy’s blessings. But screenwriters Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely reduce the novelist’s pulpy tale of good assassin vs. bad assassin into something more suitable for 60# matte paper. We open in a federal prison, with an exchange between former CIA operative/convicted murderer Six (Ryan Gosling, glowering) and his handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton). There’s a big difference between minimalism and three screenwriters eager to set in motion a plot that drags viewers through a world of nothing new. (Why Six? Because 007 was spoken for.) For all we learn about these two, the disposable Tarantino-ish dialogue — most of which centers on watermelon-flavored chewing gum — could just as easily have been supplied by word bubbles. All we need know is that Six is a well-respected killing machine whose life sentence will be commuted in exchange for a lifetime commitment to killing in the name of Old Glory.

When letting the pictures do the talking proves insurmountable, it’s best to write secondary characters that don’t know when to shut their mouths. (Alan Ladd was a terrible actor, but in the right film noir lighting and with a shortage of dialogue, he could appear quite menacing.) Six’s first assignment is to shoot a bad guy through two stories of glass ceilings. It’s a feat that starts a person wondering how much better it would have looked had it been enacted on a soundstage set built to scale by a crew rather than in a miasma of pixels crafted by a guy seated before a bank of computer monitors. Like most movie hitmen, Six has a moral compass that prohibits him from murdering children. His target, known simply as Four, is one of their own. (Do the math.) Leave it to Four to always have a youngster by his side to act as a shield in the event that bullets fly. Four dies, but not before entrusting Six with an encrypted thumb drive that could bring an end to civilization as we know it, or some such nonsense.

The supporting cast didn’t come cheap. It generally takes a professional killer to take out a hired gun, hence the presence of Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans, nothing special), yet another former CIA agent who suffers from more than a hint of psychosis. Hansen is the type who’s erudite enough to quote Schopenhauer, but let Fitzroy use the word “preternatural” to describe him, and it’s a boot to the face. Rather than using a pliers to relieve Fitzroy of his fingernails, a more suitable punishment would have been ripping off the wet-cotton candy toupee — easily the worst of his career. Six is aided by fellow operative Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), whose main function is taking out baddies while draped in the latest androgynous accoutements. Her contributions to the proceedings are negligible at best, particularly in light of Suzanne Brewster (Jessica Henwick), the agent assigned to look after Six. She manages to outperform (and outact) de Armas at every turn. What the film didn’t need was the presence of Fitzroy’s niece, Claire (Julia Butters, or is it Addison Timlin?). Orphaned and saddled with a heart condition, the teenager’s sole contribution to the plot is that of serving as a kidnap victim.

Contrary to its title, the film bleeds color. It should come as no surprise that Stephen F. Windon, the man responsible for the rack and pinion camerawork, has six (not 007) Fast and Furious sequels under his belt. Add to that Henwick’s underplaying and I’ll be generous by assigning it a one-star rating.

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