After the misshapen but fascinating left-turn of their last film, Cherry, Joe and Anthony Russo are back with a bang — several, in fact, all loud and expensive-looking. The directing brothers responsible for the remarkable one-two punch of Infinity War and Endgame return to blockbuster cinema in fine fettle with this assured, energetic, consistently compelling caper.
It has all the trappings of a modern espionage action-thriller: there is an air-mile-heavy international itinerary, a USB drive MacGuffin, a web of shady conspiracies that goes all the way to the top — and at the centre of it all, a gun-for-hire struggling with what it means to be a good man. Based on the novels by Mark Greaney, the temptation to make Bourne or Bond comparisons are all there, but the Russos’ regular screenwriters, Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, are self-aware enough to do it for you. Their script, which leans on the genre’s tropes without escaping them, gently leavens any overt seriousness with the occasional grenade of glibness.
Key to that balancing of tones are the film’s opposing A-list leads, Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. Very much two sides of the same incredibly handsome coin, their respective allegiances are handily signposted by facial hair (to wit: beard = goodie; moustache = baddie). Both are electrically watchable — Evans, in particular, gleefully pisses on Captain America’s legacy to portray the kind of villain that even Thanos would consider a bit rude. His Lloyd is really just a weapons-grade asshole, who trades in, by his own admission, “bad ethics and zero impulse control”. He’s a ton of fun to watch.
Gosling is still effortlessly good, by turns winkingly charming and brutally convincing.
Gosling is more reserved by comparison — it’s another taciturn role where he uses his preternatural looks as a deadpan shield — but he’s still effortlessly good, by turns winkingly charming and brutally convincing, sprinkling pathos and humanity into his hardened CIA off-books killer. As far as first-time action-blockbuster roles go, Gosling looks like he’s been dodging fireballs for years.
Which is handy, because he has to do a lot of that. There are nine giant action sequences scattered throughout the running time, featuring explosive fireworks (in the opening fight, literally so), across planes, trams and automobiles. While you might feel the CGI in some moments, the Russos’ action here is more Winter Soldier than Infinity War — lots of ground-level, stylishly shot, muscular hand-to-hand combat.
There’s so much, in fact, that it’s really an action film first, spy thriller second. Anyone expecting a John le Carré potboiler should look elsewhere. There’s not much room for character work outside of those lead two, either — Ana de Armas isn’t given the opportunity to steal scenes in the way she did in No Time To Die. But while it might sometimes feel like relatively superficial entertainment, it is undeniably damned entertaining, and confidently executed. If sequels are coming, as has been hinted, we’re ready for the next 49 shades of Gray.