An over-the-hill hitman faces off against a younger clone of himself.
Ang Lee is a particularly interesting director. Undoubtedly talented, the auteur tends to jump between different genres with varying degrees of success, from smaller scale dramas like Brokeback Mountain, to fantastical action epics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and more regular big budget blockbusters like Hulk.
All his films – no matter the genre or budget – have always been entrenched in deeply human story lines, full of interesting, flawed characters and complex emotions. Yet in recent years, the Taiwanese filmmaker has embarked on a journey to advance and refine filmmaking techniques such as the perfecting of computer generated imagery in Life of Pi and the use of 4K 120 frames per second cameras on Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
Now, Lee has decided to marry both technologies for his newest feature Gemini Man, having been shot natively in 120 fps, 4K and 3D – movies are generally shot in 24 fps and 2k reslution – as well as including a completely digital recreation of a 23 year old Will Smith who fights a 50 year old Will Smith (though let’s face it, the guy looks better than most 23 year old men… me included).
It’s therefore a shame that the results of these groundbreaking techniques are extremely difficult to be appreciated as Lee intended, on the account of being released on a ridiculously low number of screens worldwide, with only 14 theatres in North America and 2 in the UK (you’re luckier if you live in China where it was released in 50 – 100 screens). Even then there is only the option of 3D+HFR or 4K, but not together as intended.
And many shots are clearly designed and conceived to take as much advantage as possible of the special formats with lush, exotic locales, beautiful wide framing and energetic camera movements.
Leaving technicalities aside for a moment, Gemini Man infamously sat in development hell for over 20 years, originally being conceived in 1997 and written specifically for Clint Eastwood. Since then, stars like Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Nicolas Cage, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise were attached for the lead role, yet it was believed that digital effects had not evolved enough. I would argue it still hasn’t.
The attempt to de-age and recreate a young Will Smith – called Junior here – is hugely ambitious and whenever he’s still, the result is fantastic, but when the action starts or even when he’s having a conversation the character starts looking rubbery, weightless, unconvincing and soulless, coming close to Superman-level bad in occasions.
Sadly the script also feels like a product from the 90’s as it ticks all the cliche boxes you can think of for the spy, action and clone/doubles genre, with very few fresh ideas that haven’t been explored in films like the Bourne franchise, Looper or The 6th Day.
Will Smith delivers a good performance as both the original agent Henry Brogan and his clone, with the mature version being pretty much the same character we’ve seen Smith play before in Bad Boys, Independence Day or I, Robot, which is to say the indestructible wisecracking action hero.
This leaves Junior to be the more interesting of the two, as the younger counterpart struggles with coming to terms as to what he is after discovering his true nature and deciding whether his origin will dictate who he wants to be. Additionally, Smith does an excellent job of infusing his performance with the spirit and mannerisms of an emotionally conflicted teenager who is lashing out against his father and, in more ways than one, himself.
Even the considerable talents of actors such as Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong and Clive Owens are wasted in cliched roles that are to be expected by this kind of script with the badass female agent who falls for the protagonist, the funny sidekick and the villainous, corrupt army general with an interesting purpose that is sadly left unexplored, respectively.
That being said, because this is a Will Smith vehicle as well as an Ang Lee production, there is still fun to be had and some entertainment value with a few excellent action sequences, especially a memorable extended chase sequence through Colombia which is easily the highlight of the film (particularly if you are able to see it on the 3D+HFR format).
The story has an great concept and it’s easy to see why a filmmaker like Lee would want tell it as the thematic content of the old man full of regrets who has to face them in a literal way makes for a fascinating tale which is ripe with the exploration of what it means to be human in dealing with your own conscience but you can’t help get the feeling that Gemini Man was tinkered with to fit Smith’s image.
An entertaining and passable sci-fi thriller that makes some good use of star Will Smith and includes enough quality action sequences to be worth a watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, it also wastes the talents of director Ang Lee, its technological ambitious (both behind and in front of the screen) and the enormous potential it had. For a film that explores the meaning of being human, Gemini Man sadly comes across as a soulless final product.