‘Gemini Man’ Is A Flawed, Groundbreaking Experiment (Movie Review)

Ang Lee’s Gemini Man is the kind of film geeks like yours truly not only rush out to see but rush out to see in the best theater possible. In this particular case, there are less than twenty theaters across the country that can offer the premiere experience. So, is the 3D High Frame Rate action extravaganza starring not one but two Will Smiths worth paying the premium ticket price? Read on!

The script for Gemini Man has been around for over two decades, with many directors and stars attached. In the simplest terms, it’s about an aging assassin hunted for “permanent retirement” by a much younger version of himself. A clone. This means we’ll witness a fifty-one-year-old Smith sparring against a mocap-ed version as a younger Smith who looks a bit unreal but nevertheless impressive most of the time.

One of the best choices for this production was to cast someone as charming as Smith. He’s may not be Men in Black-era funny, but the A-lister’s charm goes a long way to selling a pretty generic script.

Still, the big reason to see Ang Lee’s latest is the High Frame Rate. (120 frames per second! …though 60 fps in most locations) There are scenes where the clarity is so crisp and striking it can fool one’s eyes into thinking that Will Smith – or fellow co-stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) and Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange) are in the same room as the viewer. I’m not kidding. I’ve seen The Hobbit in 48 fps and other HFR movies, but I’ve never had that feeling until now.

Scale is another fantastic element. The film opens with Henry Brogan (Smith) setting up an impossible sniper shot. He lies on a grassy field overlooking a vast vista. A train is off in the distance. In a matter of minutes, Henry will scope out his target who’s aboard said train, and take him out in a fraction of a second before the train enters a tunnel. It’s a stunner of an opener; not for the action per se, but because you feel like you’re with Henry on the grass and then in the train car.

Lee truly is a visionary director. I know this is the part where I’m supposed to note how the story and characters are pretty rote (they totally are), but I can’t emphasize enough just how transported I was during the film’s two-hour runtime.

In the past, Lee has pushed the medium with varying results in Hulk, Life of Pi, and Billy Flynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Compared to what Lee accomplishes with Gemini Man, the very enjoyable MCU films can feel more like expensive TV programs. Having a filmmaker who isn’t content to let cinema be visually stagnant is a godsend.

The strengths of Gemini Man are all about concept and execution. What would it be like to shoot an action film in 120 fps? How about staging an amazing motorcycle chase in the daylight where any hint of computer wizardry will be easy to spot (occasionally, it is). What if that same scene culminated with one man tossing that motorcycle at the other like some kind of oversized bat? Or how about another scene where two men (who are the same person) fight, but this time it’s not the challenge of the daylight but all the dirt, bones, and water the combatants are interacting with? All of this and more is amazing to behold and feels at times like it’s actually happening.

Still, I kept thinking I didn’t need Henry to be battling a younger, CG version of himself.  Sure, there’s a corny reason that involves an evil Clive Owen, but Gemini Man’s strengths are not in the story or plot mechanics. That can be a dirty thing to say in Hollywood, but it’s true, and most film lovers know this. Plenty of great movies have characters and plot, but it’s rarely the only reason to see a movie. Is Ethan Hunt a layered character for Tom Cruise? Heck no.

Similarities to Lee’s Hulk are present but not as well explored. That 2003 film was rooted in the Freudian issue of fathers and sons. Clearly, there’s a little of that in the way Henry becomes protective of his younger self, and in the way Owen’s character is a terribly toxic dad like Nick Nolte was to Erica Bana. Yet, the story here never leaps off the page as it did with those memorable panels of the green hero.

If Lee, as a filmmaker, has a singular thematic struggle, it’s the way the characters in his films are often trapped by their own station in life. That’s here in Gemini Man too, but it feels more like a first draft of a topic Lee knows quite well.

And yet, I can look past all that.

The real issues with the film are how certain technical aspects feel unnecessary like Smith going against a younger self who, for some weird reason, lacks the charm of the real Will Smith who, when he was a teen, was far more charismatic on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but I digress…

Ang Lee has made what will probably be seen as a precursor to what James Cameron will unleash if he ever finishes Avatar 2. But for now, as a fan of seeing the medium pushing forward, I’m still all in.

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