Review: Gemini Man
Whether the end result ultimately works or not, it is important to push the boundaries of film. As a visual medium, it is imperative to not stagnate. If we are lucky, we get one film a year that both extends those supposed limits and ends with a satisfying film. One of the few films that has that possibility in 2019 is Gemini Man. Thus far, much more has been said about the technology behind bringing Gemini Man to the screen than has been said about the movie itself. And honestly, that is probably for the best.
Obviously, the most notable advance in technology being used is a deaged Will Smith who plays the dual role of Henry Brogan and his clone, Junior. Sadly, this is not a spoiler as this was the selling point of the film. This is unfortunate because the movie demands that you are surprised by this with Henry, but we digress. On top of this feat, this is a movie meant to be seen in 3D, with 4K resolution and a high frame rate of 120fps. This is a lot to deal with, especially because only a handful of theaters in the United States have the capability to handle this workload. For a massively budgeted film like this, to say that this is a risk is a giant understatement. But none of this should surprise you if you have followed director Ang Lee’s career. He has a history of pushing boundaries and constantly switching genres, and Gemini Man is no exception.
The technology, at times, is fantastically impressive. At others, it is frankly difficult to look at without wincing. The high frame rate is taken advantage of in several action sequences that are almost too fast for our eyes to follow. And this is exactly as it should be so the audience is blown away by the speed, accuracy, and force of Henry Brogan and Junior in combat with one another. The problems arise when the digital creation of Junior is forced to stand still. I admire the guts of Ang Lee and his team to continually show close-ups of Junior’s face as he attempts to emote. Unfortunately, even after two decades, the technology is still just not quite there.
There is one scene that stands out as particularly painful to watch. Without giving too much away, this scene demands Junior to perform a powerful and impactful emotional moment. It is clear that this is beyond the vocal and physical performance. In order to hide some of the problematic visuals, young Will Smith is covered in tears and his eyes are reddened to a point of almost comical absurdity. In earlier moments, Lee smartly introduces Junior with clever angles, from around corners, or with his face partially obscured. Despite the fact that we know the plot point of who Junior is, Lee’s fantastic staging and blocking puts us on the edge of our seats, ready for anything. And bless him for putting the money on the screen. The beautiful locales (that are soon destroyed) look stunning on film, as does the action. Never let it be said that Lee is only great with costume dramas. I would love to see more pure action films from him.
Gemini Man is a film whose core story was written over two decades ago, and goodness does that become apparent. By all accounts, this film did not get made in the late 90’s because the aforementioned technology was not advanced enough to produce it. As such, much of the film feels lifted from the trash heap of 90’s action flicks. It just never seems to fit in with modern filmmaking. However, that does not mean there is not fun to be had. When at its best, Gemini Man is enjoyable, escapist fare. It really has all of the pieces from that time in cinema history. A bare bones script, dependency on the magnetism of its star, a one dimensional megalomaniacal villain (Clive Owen in another role that demands nothing of him), and specific action set pieces. There are also long periods of mostly unnecessary exposition to provide lip service to its shallow themes mostly laid at the feet of Mary Elizabeth WInstead. Although it is nice to see a film use her well, it would be better if there was demanding material for her to sink her teeth into.
Clearly, Gemini Man is not a great movie, but it is good enough. If you can bide your time between tremendous action sequences, you will be rewarded well for your patience. Just avoid rolling your eyes at the lip service towards obvious themes of identity and consciousness and enjoy the ride. Squint hard enough and maybe young Will Smith will even look human.