Double the Will Smith can't save this dull action-thriller — nor can its distracting, unconvincing high-tech visuals.
October 10, 2019
Pitting Will Smith against himself, Gemini Man is designed to boggle the mind. Viewers are supposed to stare at the big screen in awe as the former Fresh Prince not only plays a supremely skilled 51-year-old assassin, but — through the wonders of seamless de-ageing CGI — also plays his 23-year-old clone. We're also meant to marvel at the 3D visuals that surround the two Smiths as they go head-to-head, with the movie shot on digital in 4K resolution at 120 frames per second. Technical jargon aside, that means Gemini Man is super-crisp thanks to its vastly increased number of pixels, and it boasts five times the usual images each second, with the camera picking up five times the visible detail as a result.
Sadly, while Ang Lee loves to keep pushing the filmmaking boundaries, especially in a technical sense, he completely misses his target with Gemini Man. It doesn't come close to eliciting the same wonder that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's astonishing martial arts choreography inspired, or the dropped jaws sparked by his immersive adaptation of Life of Pi either. Instead, in Lee's second successive attempt to make a watchable high frame-rate flick (after 2016's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk), this espionage thriller has the bland appearance of a TV soap opera. At its worst, it resembles absolutely anything screening on television with the motion-smoothing settings left on (aka the default viewing mode on modern screens that Tom Cruise famously asked viewers to switch off when watching Mission: Impossible - Fallout at home). Stacks of cash have been splashed on the most advanced special effects available — techniques that are being hailed as the future of cinema — but the end product really couldn't look cheaper or uglier.
In a movie that basically only exists to showcase its apparently cutting-edge hyper-realistic imagery, Gemini Man's visual blah factor has an enormous impact. Lee clearly hopes his high-tech frames will patch over the generic narrative, but they actually emphasise the film's routine flavour. Penned by David Benioff (Game of Thrones), Billy Ray (Overlord) and Darren Lemke (Shazam!), this by-the-numbers affair follows seasoned government-sanctioned sharp-shooter Henry Brogan (Smith) as he packs it all in after a tricky assignment. As soon as he trades in his weapons for retirement, he's tracked down by his youthful doppelgänger (also Smith). A rogue intelligence agency head honcho (Clive Owen) is behind it all; however, as we probably don't need to point out, he isn't the toughest adversary that Brogan must face.
Throw in Mary Elizabeth Winstead as another agent caught up in the chaos, plus Benedict Wong as a kindly pilot helping Brogan hop around the globe, and Gemini Man sits somewhere between every Bourne flick and every 90s action movie involving duplicity and double-crossing. Plot-wise, it truly is that standard; no-budget straight-to-VHS stinkers have demonstrated more narrative ingenuity. A boilerplate story told well can still keep viewers engrossed, though, especially in this genre (see: the excellent John Wick films), but that's not the case here. While cheesy, inane dialogue that spells out every twist is unfortunate enough, the fact that Gemini Man looks like someone has simply used their iPhone to film two Will Smiths who happen to be standing in front of them is grating, disconcerting and distracting. That it also looks like it could be a sequel to Tommy Wiseau's The Room — well, that comparison obviously says plenty.
It's one thing to feel like you could reach out and touch whichever Smith you prefer (the elder Smith deserves that honour, with the actor more comfortable acting his age than chasing his younger glory days). It's another to get bombarded with so much visual data that nothing stands out, including Smith and his digital recreation. In the pursuit of hyper-clarity, Gemini Man lacks anything that resembles movie magic — and while that means there's no blurring or chaotic editing in the film's chase and fight scenes, which are both staged and shot with fluidity, it's all just dull rather than spectacular. You won't sit there wondering "how did they do that?", but rather "why did they do that?". And if you're not getting jiggy with Gemini Man's imagery, then you're not getting jiggy with this empty experiment in stretching the limits of cinema to a place that no one really wants it to go.
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