Despite a mixed-to-scathing critical response, Netflix appears to be going all in on the Gray Man Cinematic Universe.The beleaguered streaming service, which spent approximately $200 million to make the Russo Brothers’ globetrotting spy epic, has already greenlit both a sequel and a spin-off film just one weekend after the film hit, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The sequel promises to be fairly straightforward, returning Ryan Gosling (who will presumably return as CIA agent Six), as well as Joe and Anthony Russo as directors. Stephen McFeely, a longtime Russo collaborator on their Marvel movies,, is writing the script. He has plenty of .plot available to mine, as The Gray Man is based on the first in a series of novels by Mark Greaney: There are ten books so far, with an eleventh set to be released next month, and a twelfth in February.
However, critics who disliked the first movie weren’t focused on the script. For example, while the New York Times’ review said that while Gray Man is filled with quippy writing and action scenes,“the frenzy is also distracting to the brink of self-sabotage,” and “The caffeinated cuts and pacing never allow the audience to find its footing in the film’s large, expensive set pieces, which prevents the action from becoming truly thrilling.” The LA Times called it “such a synthetic, soulless bundle of goods that it barely feels touched by human hands.” (British GQ gave it a more charitable read, noting the importance of “appreciating it for what it is, a star-heavy beat ‘em up with guts and guns aplenty.”)
But viewers at home were more positive—or at least they didn’t actively avoid the film, according to Netflix, which bragged that Gray Man was the top-streamed movie in 92 countries. (The company did not, however, release any cumulative viewership data, so it’s hard to compare the audience to, say, that of an average mediocre action movie that opens only in theaters.)
News of Netflix’s deep investment in Gray Man world comes a few days after Marvel head Kevin Feige told Deadline that the Russos are “not connected” to either of the recently announced Avengers films, despite having directed the previous two, which were the biggest films in the franchise thus far. As evidenced by a July 15 Hollywood Reporter interview, the Russos seem to be very happy making movies for streaming versus for traditional theatrical releases. In a widely circulated quote, Joe Russo told THR, “A thing to remember, too, is it’s an elitist notion to be able to go to a theater. It’s very fucking expensive. So, this idea that was created—that we hang on to—that the theater is a sacred space, is bullshit.”
More intriguing than news of the Gray Man sequel is the spin-off, which will be penned by Deadpool’s Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. The veteran writers, whose CV includes Zombieland, can bring a more biting comic sensibility than we saw in the first Gray Man“Wernick and Reese will write the spinoff and we’re going to do something a little more edgy and experimental with that,” Joe Russo told Deadline, while explaining that their film will have a “hard R” rating.
The Russos have stated that they follow Steven Soderbergh’s “one for them, one for me” approach to lining up projects, earning the right to make more personal films by making traditional, big-audience studio fare. Looking at their vast lineup of upcoming projects, though, it’s difficult to figure out which ones are for the Russos: Beyond the Gray Man movies, they’re also working on the Netflix sci-fi movie The Electric State, with Millie Bobby Brown and Chris Pratt, as well as an Amazon techno-thriller spy series called Citadel, with Priyanka Chopra and Stanley Tucci— none of of which exactly feel like Bubble or High Flying Bird.