With Ryan Gosling playing the hero and Chris Evans playing the villain, it might be hard to pick a side. But watching Netflix's The Gray Man, I found myself rooting for the bad guy—for all the wrong reasons.
We've known Evans as Captain America, a.k.a. the first Avenger and America's ass, for so long as he spent almost a decade wielding the shield. However, he's no stranger to the villain role. He has played bad guys in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and more recently, Knives Out, and he always knocks it out of the park.
Slight spoilers ahead
The Gray Man follows Sierra Six (Gosling), a prisoner who was freed after getting recruited by Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton). He later works on a mission under Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page) with Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) but soon uncovers incriminating agency secrets.
Because of that intel, a bounty is placed on Six, forcing him to go on the run. This causes Carmichael to call on psychopathic former CIA agent Lloyd Hansen (Evans) to hunt down the mercenary.
With Anthony and Joe Russo at the helm of The Gray Man, you can expect a wittier spy film—at least compared to the Bonds and Bournes. These are the guys that directed sitcom cult classic community, and some of the biggest Marvel movies of all time, so there's a high bar of expectation set.
While The Gray Man isn't as colorful or fun as Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks, it does have its witty moments, something you don't see as much in spy films. The humor in this film, too, is pretty meta.
In one of the scenes, Dani asks Six to throw her a gun, but he accidentally handed her an unloaded weapon. This prompts the merc to ask her to specify that she wanted a loaded gun.
In another moment, Lloyd gets shot in the butt with a tranquilizer, prompting me and many others to recall how that's America's ass that just got shot. I got a feeling that's what the directors wanted to make another iconic moment featuring Evans' bod.
Evans, the lovable bad guy
In no way was Lloyd Hansen a lovable villain—he's a psychopath who pulls out people's nails to get intel—but I couldn't help but root for him. Dressed in preppy clothes and making quips while failing to nab Six, Evans oozes charm.
In the final fight scenes, I was actually rooting for him and it's not because he has the better arms. Compared to Gosling's Six, Evans' Lloyd had more personality. Six is just your typical action hero who can dodge bullets and will save the day, while Lloyd is annoying, loud, unrelenting, and clad in preppy boy outfits. He was such a caricature of what you'd expect from a villain that I found myself in his corner.
Can The Gray Man be the next big action franchise?
During a July 14 press conference, the Russo brothers talked about expanding The Gray Man universe. And with a stellar cast—De Armas, Dhanush, Page—whose stories have yet to be told, it could be interesting.
For me, what The Gray Man lacked for me was a more compelling motivation for Six. In the middle of the film, I forgot why he was getting hunted in the first place. And while the chemistry between Gosling and Evans was great, their fight scenes lacked an emotional component. Six is fighting to save Claire Fitzroy (Julia Butters), who he formed a bond with in the film, but it wasn't memorable enough.
Even though the movie has the Russo brothers, witty comics-like banter, and a star-studded cast, I don't think it will get non-spy movie fans into the fold like how Infinity War and Endgame got non-comic fans into the MCU. We need to fall in love with the hero and get more backstory—hopefully, that's what future The Gray Man films will do in the future.
The Gray Man streams on Netflix on July 22.