“The Gray Man,” “Nope,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Minions”

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-watching-movie-inside-the-theater-7991139/

This month’s movie reviews of The Gray Man, Nope, Top Gun: Maverick and Minions

Sometimes I’m puzzled by critics’ responses, which is somewhat ironic since I have been known to dabble in criticism myself. For example, The Gray Man (on Netflix) has come in for a few brickbats from various reviewers, but I found it to be quite entertaining, something akin to a bigger budget, quip-packed version of a Republic serial. The high velocity (and body count) comes courtesy of directors Anthony and Joe Russo (who brought you Captain America) but the plot is none-too-surprising, and if you’re a fan of the action movie genre, you can probably write some of the developments (and dialogue) yourself. In the case of The Gray Man, there’s this prisoner with a certain skill set (Ryan Gosling) who is recruited by a CIA bigwig (Billy Bob Thornton) to use his skills for the government. Flash-forward some years later and a certain assignment goes wrong, with the victim hinting that Gosling’s character has been used. Oh yes, the soon-to-be dead guy has some encrypted data that the CIA would like to get their hands on, Gosling takes possession of it, and chaos ensues—especially since Thornton’s character has retired and that there is a newer, more unscrupulous breed of riffraff in charge of the CIA. And of course, the new leadership will stop at nothing to both retrieve the data and terminate Gosling—even if it means kidnapping Thornton’s daughter and hiring the most sadistic (and incompetent) sociopath available (played with brio by Chris Evans, Captain America himself).

The Gray Man, once it gets going (in the first fifteen minutes) doesn’t let up, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. The action sequences are exciting without being exhausting (as is the case when you watch a Marvel film), especially a long sequence where the trapped Gosling engineers a way to escape from a trap, eluding what must be hundreds of heavily armed, target-challenged henchmen, all the while trying to break out of his handcuffs. (leading to the funniest line in the movie as an apoplectic Evans views the mayhem on a monitor). Gosling is engaging throughout (no deep dives into character, but he provides enough undercurrents), Thornton, Ana de Armas (from Knives Out, as is Evans) and Alfre Woodard (as a sympathetic, cancer-stricken former CIA head) provide more than capable support. Even the heart-tugging subplot with Thornton’s daughter is handled well and provides a bit of emotional resonance. My only caveat is the needlessly protracted climax (which is also par for the course for the directors Russo), but other than that, I wouldn’t mind seeing another Gray Man, especially since I believe the film to be franchise-bound.

Imagine a science fiction about an alien presence mixed with a Western (NOT Cowboys and Aliens) with a dash of commentary on media and the pursuit of fame—and you’ve got Nope, the latest from wunderkind Jordan Peele. This third horror entry has less to do with race and social comment (though there is some, of course) and more about the media and those who are willing to do whatever it takes, both for fame (or notoriety) and financial gain. A venerable, respected ranch owner who provides horses for films is killed early on by something that falls from the sky—his son, the responsible, taciturn O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya from Peele’s breakthrough Get Out) takes over the reins but after a horse misbehaves on set (Donna Mills is the “star” of that film), he makes plans to save the ranch by selling some horses to a tourist trap Wild West show. The owner (and main showman) is Jupe, a former child star (Steven Yeun) who survived an on-set rampage in his youth when the simian star inexplicably and murderously ran amok. Hovering above both their orbits is a possible alien presence—one which leads O.J. and his enterprising sister (Keke Bryant), to devise ways of either filming this alien (whatever it is) and reaping the financial rewards—or, in Jupe’s case, bringing in an audience to embrace its presence. (If you’ve seen other alien films, you can guess how this is going to go).

I generally enjoyed Nope, especially the relationship between Kaluuya and Palmer, Yeun’s quietly confident, if haunted portrayal, and the scenes where the alien makes its presence felt, leading to some frenzied and frightened reactions. A lengthy setpiece where the ranch is under siege is very effective, as is the scene that reveals the traumatic event that derailed Jupe’s career. But once you have the “big reveals” and the characters take action, there is a little too much time to question the events, especially with regard to what the characters know about the inner workings and philosophy of their alien antagonist. While Nope remains engrossing, there is a sense that the pieces don’t jell as well as they might, and this keeps the movie from being as effective and enthralling as Peele’s first two outings.


Top Gun: Maverick. If you haven’t seen Tom Cruise’s return to his bold and brazen, hellraisin’ “Maverick”, then try while it’s still on the big screen, as it is far better than the first Top Gun. The flying sequences are thrilling and realistic, the plot is more than adequate, with echoes of the first entry. Here, Cruise’s veteran has to play flight instructor (for a suicide mission) tries to reconcile with the hot-headed pilot son (Miles Teller) of his pal from the first film (played then by Anthony Edwards). The film effortlessly blends action with interludes concerning family, duty, responsibility, and redemption—with a touch of romance thrown in as Cruise’s maverick tries to also make amends with a former love (Jennifer Connelly). Jon Hamm makes the best of the requisite antagonistic officer role, and Cruise’s charisma comes through, accompanied by welcome touches of humanity and vulnerability.  


Minions: The Rise of Gru is plenty of fun, as we see the youthful Gru (voiced again by Steve Carell) try to join the Supervillains League, even as the Supervillains are ousting its founder and object of Gru’s idolatry (Alan Arkin). While not as inspired as the first Despicable Me, Gru and the irrepressible, irresistible machinations of the devoted Minions have retained their charm, and some of the gags are quite ingenious. It’s worth seeing—even if you don’t have a kid to bring.