Saturday 23 July 2022

The Gray Man (Movie Review)

Netflix has been in the news a lot lately, as the company continues to struggle amidst an evolving streaming landscape. It hasn't all been bad news or lost subscribers though, with the streamer managing to score some major viewership wins through the most recent season of Stranger Things. And now it is once again making a play for theater quality thrills with its latest spy thriller, The Gray Man. But considering a price tag that ranks the film as one of its most expensive, the question becomes whether or not this new blockbuster even manages to justify its existence.

The film stars Ryan Gosling as Sierra Six, a black ops mercenary working for the CIA. He soon finds himself becoming the agency's latest target after he comes into possession of some incriminating evidence. In a bid to stop him, the agency resorts to enlisting the services of a former agent named Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans). But Lloyd proves to be a little more than they can handle, after he shows his willingness to go to any lengths to bring down his target, with no regard for collateral damage.

If it sounds like you've heard that synopsis before then it's probably because you have. Because for all its blockbuster ambitions, The Gray Man is yet another cookie-cutter spy thriller about the shady dealings of intelligence agencies. That is not to say that its derivativeness is an immediate death sentence to the film's prospects, but it surely won't be scoring any points for originality. Where it does attempt to set itself apart from those that came before it though is in its scope and execution.

Much like the novel it is based upon, the movie finds our lead embroiled in an adventure of international espionage. And Ryan Gosling slips into the role of Sierra Six like a glove, with a performance that strikes the right balance between stoic and self-aware. Ana De Armas is likewise very badass as his partner, Dani, although her turn in this film was nowhere as scene-stealing as the one she'd given in No Time to Die. But the biggest standout was of course Chris Evans, who fully embodies the unhinged nature of the film's main antagonist with a performance that could be considered mustache-twirling but comically so.

The movie also looks good for the most part, although I suspect that might depend on your tolerance for its overreliance on drone shots and shaky cam footage. It is also well-paced, never seeming to lose any steam during its two-hour runtime. The Russo brothers clearly know how to keep viewers engaged as they've proven time and time again in their MCU offerings, and they know just when to drop the big setpiece moments that have since grown to define their work.

Some of the action sequences in their latest film are genuinely thrilling to watch, especially if you like over-the-top stunts of the Michael Bay variety. There was one particular chase scene involving a train that is guaranteed to have action junkies at the edge of their seats, showcasing where most of the $200 million production budget went. But anyone expecting thrills of a more cerebral kind would be best off tempering those expectations beforehand.

The Gray Man is ultimately let down by an all-too-familiar story that is just serviceable enough to see it through to the finish line. Its three main stars help to pick up some of the slack, while its action scenes at least give viewers something bright and shiny to ogle at. But none of that is enough to save what essentially feels like another soulless action film being churned out by Netflix in a bid to pad out their growing library of on-demand movies.

Friday 8 July 2022

Thor: Love and Thunder (Movie Review)

The fourth film to center upon the misadventures of the MCU's resident god of thunder has arrived. And its arrival marks the return of Taika Waititi who once again takes his place in the director's chair, looking to replicate some of the magic he had infused into Thor: Ragnarok. But does his latest film manage to surpass the lofty heights of the previous one or is this just another case of more of the same?

The story picks up right where Avengers: Endgame left off, with Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) now a proud member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Meanwhile, a new villain named Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) lives up to his name by wreaking havoc across several planets as he goes around slaying their gods. This would force Thor to set off on a quest to stop him before he rids the entire galaxy of all the gods. But Thor would need all the help he can get, even if it means looking for it in the most unexpected places.

The Thor movies haven't always been in the topmost tier of the MCU. All that had changed with Thor: Ragnarok of course, a movie that many considered a pleasant surprise with how well it balanced some of its heavier subject matters with moments of levity. But with that sense of surprise now gone, Thor: Love and Thunder can't help but feel like another attempt to capture lightning in a bottle. 

This is my way of saying your enjoyment of the film could very well hinge on how much you enjoyed the last one. Because for better or worse, the new film doubles down on a lot of the humor and overall lightheartedness that has since come to define the series. Taika Waititi once again proves that he knows how to handle these characters, bringing out yet another round of standout performances from the cast. Christian Bale was formidable as Gorr, while Russell Crowe provided some of the movie's biggest laughs.

The whole thing did tend to border a little too close to the edge of slapstick this time around though, and while not every single one of its jokes might land, there is bound to be at least one or two that will get even the most jaded or cynical of moviegoers chuckling out loud. I particularly found the two goats to be comically obnoxious, and there was a line about Gorr's teeth that had me in stitches.

Aside from getting its audience to laugh, the movie still needs to provide some decent action to be considered a true product of the MCU. And it certainly delivers on those fronts as well, with some of the most gloriously over-the-top action and heavily stylized blood and gore I've seen in a PG-13 movie. There is one particular scene that was shot in stunning black and white, using splashes of color to depict the interplay between light and shadow. It is such moments that helped elevate the film beyond being just another formulaic entry in the Thor series and larger MCU.

Thor: Love and Thunder employs a lot of the same tricks that helped define Thor: Ragnarok, particularly its reliance on humor to tell an otherwise dark and heartfelt story. Taika Waititi has already proven through prior films like Jojo Rabbit that he knows how to tug on people's heartstrings when he needs to, and he does that so effortlessly in this one. The film might not quite manage to reach or exceed the sheer brilliance of Thor: Ragnarok, but it still offers enough entertainment value to be considered a good time at the movies.