Netflix’s next big blockbuster is “The Gray Man,” a CIA thriller based on Mark Greaney’s 2009 novel (and the first in the long-running “Gray Man” series of novels). It’s painfully clear that the film should herald the launch of a brand new, male-driven franchise. Think ‘James Bond’, ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Fast & Furious’. Unfortunately, this film’s by-the-numbers plot and dull action sequences make for exciting background noise, but no gripping grandeur on the big screen.
There’s a downside to being the leader in a new form of entertainment production and delivery: eventually the competition shows up.
Netflix isn’t having the easiest years. There’s a downside to being the leader in a new form of entertainment production and delivery: eventually the competition shows up. This was compounded by the pandemic, which appears to have created a subscriber bubble. (Shareholders don’t seem to understand Newtonian physics; what goes up, eventually comes down.) But Netflix is hampered by a second, bigger problem, exemplified by “The Gray Man,” one of the most expensive blockbuster projects it has funded to date. Neither has a defined personality.
To be clear, “The Gray Man” has all the hallmarks of a popular summer blockbuster. There are A-list stars with a long track record: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Rege-Jean Page, Ana de Armas and Jessica Henwick. The Russo Brothers, the directors, have hits like “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame” – two of the highest-grossing films in history – under their belts. The books from which the film is adapted are bestsellers. There are huge explosions, thrilling stunts and impressive computer-generated images that are indistinguishable from reality.
And yet “The Gray Man” ultimately feels aptly named, as it’s a blockbuster that disappears. It’s bland, innocent and unobtrusive. Main character Gosling has never had an outspoken personality, but here he disappears into the background of his own film. Chris Evans is surprisingly just as unobtrusive, a feat of self-effacement for an actor who is practically defined by his persona. At least the Armas has more to do than she did on her James Bond outing, but the crossover only creates confusion as she appears to have invaded from hanging out with Daniel Craig and isn’t sure how she got here .
In short, “The Gray Man” is the perfect $200 million movie to have in the background while you play TwoDots on your phone or text your bestie about upcoming summer plans. In a way this means: also the perfect Netflix movie: something that resembles other things you like to watch, without really asking anything of you watch the.
Netflix does have big hits, but none of them have a real continuous line to each other, other than ‘expensive’.
And for nearly a decade, this was enough for Netflix. Recall that one of the earliest identities was ‘Netflix and chill’, which assumes that everything on the screen is so innocuous it can’t possibly ruin the mood. This was a perfect fit when it had only Hulu’s confused, limited brand and Amazon’s second fiddle streaming service as competition. But after Netflix came face-to-face with large-scale streamers bringing a particular brand to the table, Netflix’s lack of a defined lane has become a drawback. (Disney+ and HBO Max are the protagonists here, but even Peacock and Paramount+ instantly conjure up images of NBC comedies and “Star Trek”, respectively.)
Netflix does have big hits, but none of them have a real continuous line to each other, other than ‘expensive’. “Stranger Things” has no family-friendly horror hits to group with, nor has “The Crown” spawned a string of highbrow, A-list historical pieces. Even “Bridgerton” and “Squid Game” can turn out to be fluke.
Meanwhile, “The Gray Man” seems to suffer the same fate. Does anyone even know it exists? There have been no flashy 30-second commercials on TV or streaming, virtually nothing on YouTube, promoted or not, and little to no mention of it on social media. Netflix has done almost the bare minimum despite an increasingly noisier entertainment landscape.
As a result, this film can only become a blot on the collective public consciousness. That might be good news for a spy, but it’s the last thing Netflix needs right now.