Gemini Man | Ang Lee | October 11, 2019
High frame rate cinema has been an interesting and combative topic for the past few years. I remember seeing the final Hobbit film in 48 frames per second and hating every minute of it. The CGI looked like a weightless video game, and the flow of every scene was just too fast and not cinematic whatsoever. Going into Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, I was expecting to be put off by the hyperrealism of the 120 frames per second that this film throws at you (in select theaters). Surprisingly … I didn’t mind it. If anything, it might be the only interesting thing that Gemini Man has to offer. Despite being visually impressive, the plot of Gemini Man is almost laughably simple and cliche.
Will Smith (Aladdin) stars as US government assassin Henry Brogan. The film begins with Henry taking out his last mark on a train in Belgium before retiring to his home in Georgia. He retires so quickly that you know some bad stuff is about to happen. Soon, Henry is being hunted by the very officials he used to work for, including a former military recruiter-turned-paramilitary organization founder Clay Varis (Clive Owen). There are reasons as to why he’s being hunted, but they’re ultimately throwaway lines in order to get to the real meat of Gemini Man.
Varis is in charge of Gemini, the aforementioned paramilitary and covert ops organization. They are basically the CIA or Blackwater on steroids. They groom soldiers to topple governments and take out leaders from the shadows. Unbeknownst to Henry, they also have a secret cloning program with Henry as the basis for the cloning program, given his fighting and marksman skills. Henry soon learns that Clay had stolen his DNA years ago and secretly cloned. Cue the old Will vs. young Will “battle”.
It’s really more of a 2-hour drama with a few uninteresting action scenes sprinkled throughout. Not everything in Gemini Man fails. Will Smith is still a decent actor and brings weight to both of his characters. What holds them back is an astonishingly basic plot that would almost be at home on a CBS drama. One particular action sequence and motorbike chase in Cartagena stands out as possibly the single thrilling segment of the film.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s (10 Cloverfield Lane) character Dani gets dragged into the plot by circumstance but does a fine job with the character and somewhat clunky dialogue that she’s given. She has genuine chemistry with Will Smith, which also helped speed the film along. Benedict Wong (Annihilation, Avengers: Endgame) stars as Baron, a somewhat comedic sidekick who used to work with Henry. Wong is a little more of an awkward distraction, but I always welcome him when he’s on-screen.
The real star of the show here – and an almost obvious reason that this film was made – is the technology. The 120-frames-per-second frame rate is genuinely impressive in its clarity and smooth movements. I personally dislike motion smoothing on televisions. The “soap opera effect” somehow wasn’t as apparent during the 3D 120fps screening I attended. Unfortunately, this format is available to only a handful of theaters in the country. So if you’re seeing Gemini Man in a normal everyday theater, I think you’ll walk away more the disappointed.
The CGI younger version of Will Smith in Gemini Man is equally impressive and might be the best CGI human put on screen to date. There are still plenty of uncanny valley moments, but it was ultimately very good. A high frame rate and state of the art computer graphics still can’t make up for the lackluster story that plagues Gemini Man. There are some dramatic moments of Will Smith’s inner turmoil about his past in the film – but it’s nothing new. We’ve seen this story hundreds of times before: Agent stops working, Agent is betrayed, Agent vows to find out the truth and get vengeance. That’s the basic story here. There is an attempt to delve deeper into Henry’s psyche as a decades-long killer, but there isn’t much to say.
That’s what makes Gemini Man so frustrating. Why go through all the trouble of meticulously filming in such a way, while also committing to painstaking CGI work, for such a bland story? If this was meant to be a showcase for what is possible with today’s technology, then it’s definitely a failure. I wouldn’t even call Gemini Man a bad film. It’s perfectly okay. It reminds me of a 90’s movie that you would catch every so often on TNT on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing great, but unfortunately forgettable.
Ang Lee is an acclaimed director that has created some of the best films of the past 20 years. The production has been rumored to be in development for just as long. I was left scratching my head as to why Lee decided to use this particular story to once again highlight this frame rate and CGI peak. Gemini Man, although technically impressive, is dragged down by a plot with zero twists or turns.