Here’s the thing about Joe and Anthony Russo: their skills have almost always been in service to the vision of others.
After a couple of early feature efforts (the fun Welcome to Collinwood, the less fun You, Me and Dupree) they made their mark directing episodes of acclaimed TV comedies like Arrested Development and Community before clambering to the top of the MCU ziggurat, taking over the Captain America series with The Winter Soldier and ultimately calling the shots on the epic Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Quite a career arc, but it’s worth noting that Arrested Development is Mitchell Hurwitz’s baby, and Community is Dan Harmon’s, while Kevin Feige honchos the MCU. Whatever the Russos brought to the table, they did so as hired help.
Now they’re trying to find their own footing as filmmakers, and that’s all well and good. But first we got the dreadful Cherry via Apple TV+ in 2021, which even Tom Holland in Serious Actor Mode couldn’t save, and now we have The Gray Man, which boasts a star-studded cast, a globe-trotting plot, plenty of action, and the sneaking suspicion that, bereft of firm guidance from further up the production totem pole, The Russos will just push off in any old direction.
In this case it means riffing on a number of other, better films to create something which, while consistently enjoyable, never establishes its own identity.