Chris Evans has gone toe-to-toe with super soldiers, rogue Nazis, Georges St-Pierre, his fellow Avengers, alien paramilitary, and a juiced up Eternal, but only one man has managed to wound him and make it Instagram-worthy: The Gray Man co-star Ryan Gosling in the Ontario native’s second bareknuckle role to date. The fact that Gosling has never made himself out to be an action star makes the reveal doubly more impressive.
In the blue corner, we’ve got Chris Evans, a seasoned action stalwart and living superhero with the thickset chassis of Captain America, and on the other end, Ryan Gosling — a relative greenhorn with only five action movies on his resume. The latter only ever had to play a combat-heavy character once — Muay Thai practitioner Julian Thompson in Only God Forgives — and yet between Evans and himself, rose supreme. The Avengers: Endgame star posted the graphic evidence on Instagram: a monstrous bruise in three stages of discoloration. “Got into a little tussle with the Gray Man,” he writes. “It’s like watching the leaves turn in autumn, but condensed into one painful afternoon.”
The resulting stunt injury runs consistent with the characters both men play in The Gray Man. Ryan Gosling is Court Gentry, the titular CIA operative-turned-hitman, and Chris Evans is a former colleague of his, Lloyd Hansen, and the man tasked to hunt him down. It’s a high-stakes chess game where the slightest miscalculation means certain death. The film is a by-the-numbers big-screen adaptation of the Gray Man novels, written by regular Tom Clancy writer Mark Greaney. The story resembles James Mangold’s Knight and Day in that despite being on opposite sides of the justice system, Gosling actually plays the hero while Evans is the scheming brute pursuing him for all the wrong reasons.
The film is Netflix’s most ambitious blockbuster so far, having invested over $200 million in the AGBO-led project. AGBO’s founders and co-presidents of Story, Marvel Cinematic Universe veterans Anthony and Joe Russo, are directing The Gray Man, with recurring collaborators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely co-writing the screenplay with the younger Russo.
The movie is meant to be the start of a new in-your-face espionage franchise in the style of James Bond and Kingsman, with Ryan Gosling in the center. “The movie is a real mano-a-mano between those two great actors who represent two different versions of the CIA, in what it can be, and what it can do,” Anthony Russo tells Deadline. “For those who were fans of Captain America: Winter Soldier, this is us moving into that territory in more of a real-world setting. That’s what this movie really means for us.” And a rather crackbrained mano-a-mano it is, judging by the scale of Evans’s arm bruising.
Like the Bond films, the Gray Man series has a different villain in every instalment, so Chris Evans may not reappear as Lloyd Hansen in any future movies. Nevertheless, he’s definitely being primed to be the quintessential archenemy of Gosling’s morally dubious James Bond. “He’s a really unique character, and this is Evans as a villain so it’s a really interesting character and I think he’s going to get to flex quite a bit in this role,” the Russos tell Lights, Camera, Barstool in February.
The Gray Man also features Chris Evans’s Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas, Iron Fist’s Jessica Henwick, and Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page, with Billy Bob Thornton, Alfre Woodard, Wagner Moura, Dhanush, and Julia Butters rounding out the cast. It’s the Russo brothers’ first blockbuster since 2019’s Avengers: Endgame and their second Netflix action movie since Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction became the most watched original film on the streaming platform.
Netflix wouldn’t have been anyone’s first choice when crafting a franchise to rival Mission Impossible and James Bond, but streaming is radically changing cinema and the Russos fully understand why. Joe Russo elaborates: “The intention is for it to be competitive with any theatrical, and the ability to do with with Gosling and Evans is a dream for us. The idea is to create a franchise and build out a whole universe, with Ryan at the center of it. We have all committed to the first movie, and that’s got to be great to get us to the second movie. These are master assassins, and Gosling’s characters gets burned by the CIA and Evans’ character has to hunt him down. We have a great working relationship with Netflix, and we go back almost 20 years with Scott Stuber. We formed AGBO to be an agnostic storytelling company, where we figure out the best platform. We think Netflix is the perfect place for this film.”
The Gray Man had been in development hell since 2011. New Regency was originally going to adapt it with James Gray directing and Brad Pitt playing Court Gentry, but was indefinitely shelved four years later. Sony resuscitated the project hoping to cast Charlize Theron as a genderbent Gray Man, but that too fell through. Frequent Tom Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Mission Impossible 7, Top Gun: Maverick) was considered at some point before Netflix, Chris Evans, Ryan Gosling, and the Russos finally took over. AGBO’s Mike Larocca and Roth Kirschenbaum’s Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum are also producing. The crew already began shooting last Spring.