Gemini Man, 2019.
Directed by Ang Lee.
Starring Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Linda Emond, Theodora Miranne, Justin James Boykin, Alexandra Szucs, and Douglas Hodge.
An over-the-hill hitman faces off against a younger clone of himself.
There are only two semi-intriguing scenes in Gemini Man, and neither of them involves an aged hitman squaring off against a cloned younger version of himself or the much-touted 120 frames per second technology (Chicago press was not screened the film in this format but it’s unquestionably clear that the action is designed with those cameras in mind to enhance the immersion). Director Ang Lee has dabbled in this technology before, most inexplicably with the PTSD/Super Bowl halftime show drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (which was also not screened for Chicago press the way one would think it was meant to be seen), yielding no real results or strong positive and negative reactions. At times during that film, it was difficult to connect to any of the drama.
Now, Ang Lee has thrived as a groundbreaking visual filmmaker, but lately he’s losing his touch on how to weave in the advancement of modern-day technology with compelling narratives (just take a look at his Oscar-nominated work The Life of Pi for proof that there is a genius mind behind these concepts), and more specifically, human drama that allows audiences to relate. Instead, the filmmaker is sticking with blistering framerates (for perspective, the highest that most video games can run at are usually 60) and now taking a crack at doing something of substance with de-aging technology. Gemini Man immediately has two things going for it; higher framerate technology is promising for a globetrotting action-adventure, and the novelty of Will Smith battling a fresher, more agile, emotionally suppressed, and younger version of himself.
Unfortunately, Gemini Man doesn’t reach its full potential; it doesn’t even come close. Skill in the director’s chair is present with Ang Lee, but there is an overstuffed writer’s room with one name, in particular, sticking out; David Benioff, responsible for the many ups and downs of Game of Thrones (the final season is not the flat-out disaster certain corners of the world staunchly assert it to be, but it’s evident that he is not necessarily a good writer and fails spectacularly at covering up gaps in logic during action sequences, which is actually a problem in Gemini Man as well) and sewing Deadpool’s mouth shut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That’s not to say he is the only one at fault here, but too much of Gemini Man is fixated on government agents to train one another, framing other countries, double-crosses, and general nonsense that has nothing to do with watching Will Smith interact with his fish-out-of-water clone.
Henry (Will Smith) has handlers, buddies, superiors, former acquaintances, and more with basically none of the supporting characters registering as anything but an exposition dump or distraction from the meat of the story. The only exception is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Danny, a woman employed to spy on Henry who quickly becomes entangled into a much more dangerous situation, except the script treats her as a fighter in her own right rather than a damsel in distress for Henry to save that a retrograde 1980s version of Gemini Man would do. She doesn’t necessarily have a meaningful character arc and does serve as somewhat of a pointless love interest, but it’s also plain fun watching her hold her own against generic militia bad guys. At one point she even becomes bait to relay information to the younger Henry, and even though she’s technically in captivity there’s always the sense that she has the upper hand within the dynamic. Meanwhile, Clive Owen is hamming it up in charge of the cloning experiments, and while there is slightly more on his mind than creating super-soldiers, his justifications are weak and so glossed over that there’s nothing thoughtful to take away.
The action in Gemini Man is overly stylized, boasting a motorcycle chase ending with attacks so meticulously crafted that it actually becomes unintentionally hilarious watching older Henry evade them. Silliness aside, it is entertaining to watch, especially the hand-to-hand combat fights that are naturally the best route for expressing how truly matched the clones are. It also helps that the introduction to younger Henry fantastically succeeds at portraying him as a force to be reckoned with, having him bounce around all over the environment horizontally and vertically with precise and swift movements that mirror someone running around in an online multiplayer video game (an obvious example of where the higher framerate technology probably would have given the excitement a little extra kick).
To address the elephant in the room, the de-aging special-effects/CGI creation of Will Smith looks excellent; the only distraction is the inherent knowledge that one is watching something revolutionary and lifelike made possible by computers. In motion, it’s not a smooth as it could be (which is probably why there are so many faraway shots of younger Henry zipping around areas) and the nighttime atmosphere is relied on to hide muddy aesthetics, although, for technology that is still very much in its infancy, the results are effective enough.
So what are the only worthwhile moments of Gemini Man? The decision to give younger Henry a conscience (rather than go the machine path with the character) allows for sections of Henry literally conversing with a younger version of himself. Aside from desperately attempting to make the super-soldier realize he is a replacement weapon, Henry reflects on his life, gives advice, lays out his mistakes, and generally has discussions that I’m sure most of us wish we could have with our past selves. Of course, the bottomless charisma of Will Smith is the paramount reason this element works in the first place. It’s an example of that aforementioned human drama Ang Lee is capable of but has here abandoned for wonky stylistic action and blasé government scheming.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com