Since his first film back in 1991, Ang Lee has been very hit or miss with audiences. His first three films were hits in their native country of Taiwan, which compelled Lee to come to Hollywood a few years later to make an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Afterwards came some box office disappointments in The Ice Storm and Ride with the Devil. Then came his excellent martial arts movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The movie stands as the highest grossing foreign language movie and garnered Lee several Oscar nominations.
Then came Hulk, which was also a box office success but came out at the time that Hollywood was still trying to figure out how to do comic book movies. The film wasn’t a hit with critics, and Ang Lee considered retirement. He came back strong with his next three movies, two of which earned Lee Academy Awards for Best Director (Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi). Life of Pi, however, marked a visible turning point for Lee. He became more focused with being ahead of the curve when it comes to innovative technology, trying to stand among other great technical directors such as James Cameron. Enter Gemini Man, which has the two trademarks of Cameron’s movies; stunning, innovative visuals battling with an average script.
Gemini Man follows Will Smith’s Henry Brogan, a retired government assassin who suddenly finds himself the target of his former agency. Henry goes on the run with another agent named Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and mutual colleague Baron (Benedict Wong). Along the way, he finds himself being pursued by Clay Varris (Clive Owen) and his black ops team, code-named GEMINI. The team’s top assassin takes interest in Henry because he is Henry’s younger clone, packed with all the skill sets Henry has. Together, they team up and aim to take down Varris and demand for answers to their questions.
Not surprisingly, this movie was in development hell for decades, the initial idea being conceived in 1997. On paper, it seemed like it was the perfect material for a smart action film. But once it was in the hands of Jerry Bruckheimer, it seemed like any depth this movie had going for it would be purely superficial. After seeing the movie, it makes sense that Bruckheimer is a producer. Aside from the technology involved, it has the feel of an action movie from the late 90s or early 2000s. The action scenes are well choreographed, especially a motorcycle fight that is partially shown in the trailer.
With all this said, is the added technology worth the trouble? In some aspects, yes. The de-aging technology, which has been showcased within the Star Wars and Marvel franchises, is very impressive. It really does look like a mid-20s Will Smith is there. Only a few moments in the movie are a little off, but for the most part, it looks good. The increased frame rate, on the other hand, I found very distracting. For those who are unaware, the average frame rate for a film is 24 frames per second (FPS). Ang Lee filmed Gemini Man at 120 FPS, and the theater I saw this at was showing it in 3D at 60 FPS. I’m not really sold on this ultra polished look that Lee is so desperately trying to push.
Getting back to the story, there isn’t a lot of depth to the movie until the end. Younger Will Smith (nicknamed Junior in the film) isn’t shown until almost an hour into the movie. The script has all the right ideas about his character, but the dialogue is too weak to follow through. Also, without giving away the ending, Clive Owen has a speech in the third act that tries to justify why he was making clones of Will Smith. In a surprising turn, his explanation made sense to me.
Overall, Gemini Man is a mixed bag for all parties involved. It showcases some cool action sequences and boasts impressive effects, even if the presentation is a bit distracting. The story has all the right ideas about the human rights issues and most of the performances are good, but the script never evolves beyond its initial premise. It’s a shame that this movie may be bound for the crypt because it is an original movie. I didn’t leave the theater hating it, but it had the potential to be something great. At least we got two good performances from Will Smith.