For cinemagoers we’ve been inundated of late with films that are adaptations, remakes or film franchises. So it’s unusual for us to finally have one that’s an original concept, which inadvertently puts a lot of pressure on it to be worth the time and money to see. Gemini Man was originally conceived in 1997 and has gone through the development wringer with different directors and leading stars attached, as well as various script rewrites until Skydance Media purchased the rights off Disney. The arduous production process on this film though, hasn’t yielded the best results.
We’re introduced to Henry Brogan (Will Smith), a hitman working for the fictional Defence Intelligence Agency. After one final job taking out a terrorist, Henry decides to retire and hang up his gun. But when a mysterious assassin who turns out to be a younger cloned version of himself named Junior tries to kill him, he goes on the run with fellow DIA agent Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and his pilot buddy Baron (Benedict Wong). As they attempt to figure out why they’re out to kill Henry, they uncover a plot by Clay Verris (Clive Owen) and his top secret black-ops unit codenamed “Gemini” that has potential far reaching implications involving future engagements in war.
Ang Lee is a director known for taking risks on visually challenging films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Life of Pi. With Gemini Man he takes it to the next level, this being his second film shot in 4K 3D at 120fps (frames per second) and creating an entire human character completely in CGI. Conceptually it’s a fascinating drawcard to have both in play and would be something only a director with such expertise could muster. There’s no denying that some of the visuals here are spectacular and crisp. Cinematographer Dion Beebe throws in some immersive slow-motion explosions, or underwater bubbles you want to pop or shards of glass that look like they’re scattering into the audience. However the faster frame rate does mean that there’s tracking issues where the running and physical movement looks cartoonish. It’s a bit like forgetting to switch the motion-smoothing off on your 4K HD television.
The film with a screenplay by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke has a first act that’s a solid spy action thriller. A little reminiscent of the Bourne movies as we jump from location to location collecting information along the way. But once the reveal of Junior is dropped and they start playing the existential card the film goes wobbly. Lee and the script are trying to make us care for these two individuals, the older with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the younger with a crisis of conscience. But the film is more interesting when it’s just the visual spectacle of an older Will Smith fighting against a younger Will Smith. But even that becomes tiresome after the second fight scene. The weak dialogue also doesn’t help, and there’s not nearly enough trademark quippy one-liners from Smith. And let’s not even start the debate surrounding how Junior can anticipate and replicate Henry’s moves purely because he’s a clone.
Smith is an appealing watch in most of his roles but here he’s less believable and feels more like he’s just going through the motions of a middling action movie. He gets a couple of good introspective lines about how he can no longer look at himself in the mirror (cue the foreshadowing) but we’re not given enough time with him to emotionally connect. Winstead mainly serves to provide chunks of exposition and occasional assistance in a fight scene. Wong gets relegated to occasional comedic relief, whilst Owen gets to be the obvious insert terrible accent and evil laugh villain.
Gemini Man has an engaging first act and is a visual spectacle for the first half an hour or so. However the film’s lack of a strong story, it’s two dimensional characters and it’s insistence on going down a more psychological pathway for its hero character is unconvincing. For all its technical wizardry and gloss, leaving the story lacking results in a film that looks pretty but lacks substance.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Gemini Man is out in Australian cinemas from 10 October 2019 through Paramount Pictures Australia