Synopsis – An over-the-hill hitman faces off against a younger clone of himself.
My Take – Despite being active for decades, filmmaker Ang Lee continues to be one of the most inconsistent directors working today, mainly as he continues to prefer different camera techniques to change the narrative style of a film. Films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi have shown how he relies more on the visuals than spoken words.
Going into a film directed by him, you never know whether you’re getting the next Oscar-winning darling, or an inexplicably bad, all-around forgettable film.
His latest gamble comes in the form of this film, which has been languishing in development since the 1990s and passed through the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson and Sean Connery, before finding its lead in Will Smith.
What makes this film special is that is shot at a rate of 120 frames per second (traditional film speed is 24 fps) and 4K 3D digital. This gives the film more clarity, almost real life like experience. Unfortunately, just like his previous film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which also employed a high-frame-rate technology, the final product is quite disappointing.
What’s most mind boggling is that despite spending all those years evolving the technology, why no work was done on developing its under-cooked script written by ‘Game of Thrones’ creator David Benioff, ‘The Hunger Games’ co-writer Billy Ray and ‘Shrek Forever After‘ writer Darren Lemke, making it feel extremely out of place as a film in 2019. For all the hype about the modern technology, the story is curiously stale and at times feels like a mashup of other, better films.
What’s most surprising is that about $138–158 million was spend on producing this film, but only a few theaters on the planet are equipped to present this work as intended: a 120fps 3D and 4K combo meal. It’s a serious anomaly that tries to invoke some great fun and bleakly existential morals.
Will Smith is usually an asset for a film, as he is the kind of true film star whose charisma can elevate even the most mediocre material, but here, the film just seems to have put him in a predicament, and a stain on his already draining filmography.
The story follows Henry Brogan (Will Smith), a sharp-shooter assassin with 72 confirmed kills, getting on in years despite persistent denial. At 52, his skills remain ever watchful. But he’s nonetheless eager to slow down and retire. Just as his wishes are granted, eager to enjoy a life of meager fishing off the Georgia coast, he’s pulled back in constantly, as two of his closest co-ops are murdered, leaving Henry perplexed.
He soon finds out that he’s being monitored, and hunted by his former employers including a private contractor named Clay Varris (Clive Owen), leaving Henry no choice but to go on the run, tagging along Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young agent who was assigned to surveil him, mainly because Varris doesn’t like loose ends. Seeking help from Baron (Benedict Wong), another former colleague of his, Clay and Danny escape to Colombia to find shelter and regroup.
However their peace is short lived when they find a young and fast agent on their tail. To their surprise, the new agent is none other than younger cloned version of Henry, who is a part of a shadowy program run by Varris called Gemini. And Junior has only one mission in mind, eliminate his older self at any cost.
You know where things are going here if you’ve seen more than a handful of thrillers, but here director Ang Lee and his tech promise to elevate the hell out of it, though, with visuals that astound, delight, and annoy at the same time. This is the kind of film where the action will suddenly shift to Prague or Colombia for no particular reason and where a jet will magically be made available for the ride, even for a fugitive from the U.S. government. Along with an odd mix of talent trying to merge straightforward violence, an excess of 90s one-liners, real-world drama, and not-at-all subtle product placement.
Here, director Ang Lee does add his own personal touches to spice up the otherwise apparent generic story, doing his best to still make it enjoyably awesome, however, the reality is quite different. As appealing as the idea of an aging hit-man who is targeted by a younger clone of himself may sound, the very concept itself is flawed. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that just because two individuals have the same DNA means they will possess the same abilities.
Here, director Lee attempt at fleshing out Brogan and Junior’s respective reckoning falls embarrassingly flat, not so much because Smith doesn’t try his best to emote both ways, but rather because the character development here is so blunt it hardly even matters.
Whether deliberate or otherwise, the fact that the film pretty much revolves around five characters is even less excuse for the sheer laziness in the scripting, both in terms of plot and character. The logic gap would have been easier to ignore if the film itself were simply a popcorn blockbuster; unfortunately, it also figures itself to be a thinking-man’s thriller about the age-old debate between Nature and Nurture. As it is repeatedly mentioned that rather than kill each other outright, Brogan decides to engage in a cat-and-mouse game with Junior, believing that Junior could very well be a different person if he knew the truth about his origins.
Of course the film does include some excellent segments too namely the two set-pieces where both Will Smiths are trying to off each other. One of them takes place against the picturesque streets of Columbia, unfolding along its rooftops before culminating in a dizzying motorcycle chase; and the other happens in the under-lit catacombs of Budapest, where both men engage in a furious exchange of kicks and punches before one of them almost drowns the other.
Yet, these sequences are not enough to compensate for the sheer inertness of the rest of the film, which comprises of weak banter and plenty of thudding exposition. Not only is the science highly suspect, the whole narrative itself is frustratingly thin, with the barest of excuses why they are doing anything here. The most interesting things about the film is the technology the film uses.
First of all, the de-aging technology used for Will Smith is really impressive at certain points. It’s still very much uncanny valley in a way, with rubbery faces and expressions that don’t quite look human. Regardless, I couldn’t help but be impressed with how far that technology has come.
Without a doubt, Will Smith owns both his roles here. He’s a great actor, and gets to flex those chops as Henry Brogan and his clone, Junior. Smith channels both these characters absurdly well, eliciting just the right amount of emotion for viewers to sympathize with both Brogans. His attempt to inject pathos into both characters adds a thoughtfulness that one doesn’t usually see in these types of genre films or his prior performances.
The supporting cast is pretty good too, despite their wafer thin characterizations. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does extremely well with what she’s given, Benedict Wong is an excellent comic relief and Clive Owen once again hams it up delightfully as a one note villain. On the whole, ‘Gemini Man’ is a dull, mirthless and pointless actioner which preferred its much-hyped gimmick over a good treatment.
Directed – Ang Lee
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 117 minutes