‘The Gray Man’ or — The Absolution of Unoriginality?
I don’t normally talk to myself but all throughout the Russo brother’s ‘The Gray Man’ (2022) I kept pulling my mint tea away from my mouth to mutter out loud “This is terrible!” Yet what’s so awful about it? It’s decently made and no worse than most other current movies. The problem is less that it’s a bad movie and more that it’s an entirely and wholly unoriginal one meaning it’s not so much a feature film and more an amalgamation of action tropes designed not just to insult intelligences but to actively ignore them (you don’t need to turn your brain off for this movie as ‘The Gray Man’ simply assumes you don’t possess one anyway).
I also assume Hollywood must currently be breaking numerous child labour laws because ‘The Gray Man’ must’ve been written by a bloody infant who had been tasked with combining every single spy franchise ever made into one overstuffed blob. Got a spy franchise cliché in your head? You can bet your ass you’ll find it in here… and nothing else.
So there’s CIA monitoring teams sat in front of computer screens tracking “assets” whilst an angry superior walks behind them shouting “Now listen up people!” until it’s time for someone to mention the word “asset” again before cutting to a ‘Bourne’ action set-piece which then morphs into a ‘Bond’ action set-piece which then turns into a ‘Mission: Impossible’ action set-piece until it’s time to return to Langley so someone can say the word “asset” again. And all these off-the-peg, ready to wear clichés are strung together by some of the most interminably idiotic dialogue you could possibly imagine — “I’d rather you punch me in the dick”, “I will gladly punch you in the dick”.
This raises a question about the Russo brothers which has been bugging me for a while and that’s — these guys directed some of Marvel’s best movies so why are they making shit like this? They’re two of the most commercially successful filmmakers on the planet yet since leaving the MCU have demonstrated an off-putting fascination with guns, violence and what seems an uncomfortable pro-militarism.
In ‘The Gray Man’ this is achieved with the use of the “all crimes committed by the U.S. are down to one or two bad apples” angle which automatically lets one of the most militaristic nations on the entire planet off the hook for, well… everything! In fact, the CI.A. “proper” are shown in such a glowing and sympathetic light they’re practically benevolent and should maybe even be pitied? Bless!
God, this movie is SO badly judged it feels like a parody film but a parody film that’s decided, at the last minute, to suddenly take itself deadly seriously. Is that why the movie unexpectedly drops in a reference to Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus’? It’s this that makes it genuinely risible.
As I said, it’s not so much that this is a bad movie (it is competently made and that’s that) but that it’s a shockingly idiotic and stupid one. The story is moronic, the dialogue even more so and with political implications that are naive at very best, borderline offensive at worst. Plus, despite all the action the pacing the overall form and flow of the movie is so scattershot, unbalanced ugly that it’s impossible to discern whether the film even has any form or flow at all.
That this was made by the filmmakers behind ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014), however, is the biggest shock of all.