What critics think of ‘The Gray Man,’ Netflix’s new Chris Evans, Ryan Gosling action movie

The reviews (both good and bad) of Netflix's most expensive movie of all time.

Ryan Gosling in "The Gray Man."
Ryan Gosling in "The Gray Man." Stanislav Honzik/Netflix

On paper, “The Gray Man” seems like a slam dunk movie for Netflix. Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas teaming up with the Russo Brothers, who directed four of the most successful Marvel movies of the last decade? It’s no wonder the streaming giant made “The Gray Man” its most expensive movie ever, committing a $200 million budget to its production.

“The Gray Man” centers around Six (Gosling), a former inmate plucked from his cell by the CIA and given a life sentence as an extrajudicial hitman. His former handler (Billy Bob Thornton) is retired, and Six would love to figure out an exit plan as well. But when he obtains incriminating evidence against a corrupt CIA bureaucrat (Regé-Jean Page, “Bridgerton”), Six goes from hitman to target, and is chased around the globe by hired gun Lloyd Hansen (Evans).


Early critical response to the film, which begins a limited theatrical run July 15 before debuting on Netflix July 22, has been mixed. So far, review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes has awarded “The Gray Man” a 48 percent freshness rating at the time of this article’s publication.

Boston.com’s review of “The Gray Man” was mixed as well, calling it “a perfectly average action film” that provides “enough inoffensive entertainment to fill two hours.” But in order to provide readers a range of critical responses to help their decision of whether to see the movie in theaters, wait until it’s on Netflix, or skip it entirely, we’ve rounded up what critics are saying — good, bad, and everything in between — about “The Gray Man.”

The Good

Variety’s Peter Debruge compared “The Gray Man” favorably to the James Bond film franchise, praising the Russo Brothers for delivering four incredible action set pieces and Gosling for his leading man performance.

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.

Charlotte O’Sullivan of the London Evening Standard evoked 007 in her review as well, praising Gosling’s performance and adding him to a growing category of “wry, sensitive” action heroes.

Part of a new breed that includes Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Six is a wry, sensitive action hero willing to have his ass repeatedly saved by a resourceful female (Ana de Armas’ ambitious spy co-ordinator, Dani), who’s both incredibly sexy and roughly his age. If Six conquers the world, expect Bond bigwigs (currently deciding on new directions for the brand) to take note.

ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer praised Evans for his villainous performance and “The Gray Man” in general for “a knowing sense of its own absurdity.”

The Gray Man exists purely as means to provide Netflix subscribers with a series of enormous but not always impressive-looking action scenes. These sequences work best at their most grounded; when Gosling mixes it up in hand-to-hand combat with Evans or other goons. The stunt work in those fights is first-rate, and directors Joe and Anthony Russo showcase the choreography with reasonable clarity.

The So-So

Boston.com’s review called the film “perfectly average” and “inoffensive entertainment,” but said that audiences should expect more from Netflix given the budget and assembled talent. 

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

Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic gave the film three stars out of five, suggesting that the sheer charisma of Evans and Gosling saves the film from a much worse fate.

It’s really just two hours of Chris Evans in a bad mustache chasing Ryan Gosling around the world trying to kill him. You could do worse. Of course, you could also do better.

The Ugly

Hannah Strong of Little White Lies criticized the direction of the Russo Brothers, calling the action scenes “a dimly lit mess,” and quipping that even after directing movies for more than a decade, the brothers “don’t seem to be getting any better at it”. 

Perhaps this could have been an elevated version of the standard American action film in the hands of a director with a little more panache, but the Russo Brothers haven’t proven themselves as having any of sort of visual style or identity as artists. As such, even with two of America’s best present-day talents in the key roles, The Gray Man is doomed to the annals of history as an inexplicably expensive, badly-written bore.

Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times had plenty of criticism for the Russos as well, calling the script “spy-thriller filler.”

“The Gray Man” was directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, though it’s such a synthetic, soulless bundle of goods that it barely feels touched by human hands. Full of smirking one-liners, blink-and-you-miss-’em international locations and acts of gratuitously unpleasant (if more implied than seen) violence, it’s basically Netflix Winding Refn; it’s globe-trotting comic nihilism for the whole streaming-loving family.

Cary Darling of the Houston Chronicle mused as to whether “The Gray Man” was the worst movie of the summer.

“The Gray Man” is the kind of needless action movie that usually gets released in late August, when studios are trying to squeeze just a few more dollars from moviegoers before the summer cinematic season comes to an end. But, along with its many other flaws, “The Gray Man” didn’t even have the decency to wait a few weeks.


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