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Review: Gemini Man

October 14, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The one thing you can’t accuse the esteemed, Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee of is repeating himself or making the same movie twice. All it takes is a precursory glance at his incredibly diverse filmography to know that he hasn’t repeated himself.

This is, after all, a filmmaker who followed up his Oscar-winning martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the 2003 comic book movie Hulk, and then switched gears again to deliver the tender and moving romantic drama Brokeback Mountain two years later, for which he won his first Oscar for Best Director.

The second trophy came for his acclaimed 2012 adaptation of Yann Mattel’s supposedly unfilmable novel Life of Pi, which started his fascination with using 3D and cutting edge visual effects to enhance his storytelling. Lee’s use of groundbreaking visual effects continues with his latest film, Gemini Man.

The film is being presented in 3D and was shot in 4K at 120 frames per second. It’s being screened this way in a select few theatres that are equipped to handle it, and this isn’t Lee’s first time shooting at a higher frame rate, either. The director also utilized the format for his previous film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was actually somewhat underrated in my opinion. The difference is that film was a drama, where as Gemini Man is a straight up action movie and, well, to say that it doesn’t feel like the work of a two time Oscar-winning director would be an understatement. Because aside from the visuals, which I’ll talk about more later on, it’s just not very good.

The main character is Henry Brogan (Will Smith), an assassin nearing retirement. The film opens with him taking out a hit on someone who is on a moving train, laying low in a faraway field with his sniper rifle locked in place, and firing a bullet at the exact second that the train window passes him by. This also happens to be one of the best scenes in the movie. When Brogan is told that the hit was carried out with false intel, his government handlers decide that they want him dead, and bring in a ruthless new soldier from the mysterious Gemini project, headed by Clay Verris (Clive Owen), to take him out.

Brogan goes on the run with undercover agent Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who was hired to surveil him at his waterfront hideout, and his former partner Baron (Benedict Wong). But it’s not long before Brogan realizes that the man pursuing him is actually a much younger clone of himself, who is nicknamed Junior and was created in a lab from his DNA over twenty years ago. Junior is played by a digital version of Smith, and the fact that this character is an entirely computer-generated creation, like the tiger in Life of Pi, is perhaps the most impressive aspect of Gemini Man.

Junior is a sort of super soldier who knows Brogan’s every move, and the film offers plenty of moments for the older and younger versions of Will Smith to fight each other, which is what the movie is being sold on. Through advanced digital trickery, Smith is able to appear both de-aged by several decades and act in scenes alongside himself, and the actor does deserve credit for crafting two distinct characters, bringing different shades to both Henry and Junior. There are a few uncanny valley moments, but for the most part the visual effects are persuasive.

I saw the film at a special screening that presented it at 60 frames per second, which is half of what Lee intended, but still noticeably different than the standard 24 frames per second of most movies. For those who are able to see it this way, the higher frame rate gives it a super smooth and hyperrealistic look, with an incredible amount of detail and definition in every frame, so much so that it can be jarring at first. It’s almost too much at times, and ironically makes things appear sort of fake. The visuals are enhanced by some good if at times gimmicky uses of 3D. Lee stages some eye-popping action sequences that are fun to watch, including a motorcycle chase set on the cobblestone streets of Cartagena, Colombia that looks great in 3D, and provides the centrepiece of the film.

This sequence alone will no doubt be used as an example of how to utilize 3D and higher frame rate technologies going forward, and the possibilities that they hold to create an immersive experience. The trouble is that digital trickery is the only real selling point of Gemini Man, and everything else seems to have taken a backseat. The screenplay by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke, working from an outline that has been shopped around Hollywood for two decades waiting for the technology to catch up to its vision, is mediocre at best. It’s riddled with cliches, many elements of the plot feel underdeveloped, and the dialogue is often cheesy.

The film ultimately feels like a mediocre 1990s action movie dressed up in modern, technologically advanced clothing. Still, at its best, Gemini Man functions as a pretty cool highlight reel of what is possible to achieve through technology, that finds Lee playing around with new filmmaking tools. It’s no Life of Pi, and I sort of wish that the filmmaker would deliver another film with the human touch of his character dramas like Brokeback Mountain and The Ice Storm. But if you are going to see Gemini Man, you should see it in 3D HFR on a giant screen to at least get the full experience that Lee intended.

Gemini Man is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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