Where there’s a Will, there’s a way… to make another Will and have them fight each other. That’s the basic premise of Gemini Man, a long-gestating sci-fi actioner that sees Will Smith star as a veteran government assassin as well as the twenty-something clone of himself that’s sent to kill him. Based on a script that’s been kicked around Hollywood for two decades, Taiwanese filmmaking virtuoso Ang Lee has turned Gemini Man into his newest attempt to drag the industry kicking and screaming into the future as he filmed the entire affair at a blistering 120 frames per second and used bleeding-edge VFX to create a fully digital clone of Smith.
That technological wizardry is the real talking point here as the writing is mostly a straightforward paint-by-numbers affair. The script – originally conceived by Darren Lemke in 1997 and since reworked by a string of writers – paints Smith’s Henry Brogan as the best in the business, on the cusp of retirement, as he uncovers painfully obvious revelations about his younger, more virile doppelganger, cutely named Junior. Alongside the action – which he still handles very well – there are some dramatic depths for Smith to plumb as the troubled government gunman weighed down by the mountain of corpses he’s created in his superlative career, but its all rather pedestrian.
The same can be said for Clive Owen’s Clay Varris, one of Brogan’s Marine corps brothers turned PMC mogul who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Like the best villains, Varris thinks he’s a hero but his moral quandaries are fleeting at best. Playing a fellow Defense Intelligence Agency spook who unintentionally becomes Brogan’s, Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a committed physical performance (with some impressive action moments, giving hope for the upcoming Birds of Prey) at least. The role is undercooked though and you would be hard-pressed to even remember her name by the time the credits roll.
That lack of discerning detail in Gemini Man’s script and characters stands in stark contrast to the visuals though. If you’re only used to ye olde 24 FPS and have never seen a high frame rate production, it’s a little difficult to explain the experience. The closest comparison would be the artificial motion-smoothing option found on modern-day smart TVs, but while that tech is a repugnant revulsion, this is… Well, “different” is the best adjective I can use here as whether it’s good not will be completely subjective. For the record, Tracy and Noelle also watched Gemini Man last night and both hated its visual trappings. I’m swinging much further towards the other side.
At 120FPS there’s a slick smoothness to the motion with none of the expected motion blurring you would get from traditional cameras skipping frames, no matter how frantic the scene. The result is jarring, to say the least, but also boasts eye-watering levels of detail you just can’t get any other way. Action pops, making you feel like you’ve been thrown right into the mix alongside real-world people instead of characters on a screen. And Lee especially takes full advantage of that in what is easily the film’s biggest highlight, a sprawling chase through and over the sunny streets of Cartagena, Colombia. It’s an utterly thrilling sequence, ramping up in intensity from tense standoff to explosive bombast, which has the two Smiths throwing everything from bullets to motorcycles at each other as the camera swoops and speeds along with every beat, every flinching action recorded in perfect fidelity.
And through it all you have Junior, a marvel of CGI, miraculously turning back the clock for Smith in hard-to-believe fashion… but also not. Using a combination of motion-capture, digital de-aging, and probably virginal sacrifice black magic, Lee and WETA Digital gives us a character that at times is a soaring recreation of a real person, emotions and all. And at other times you can find him clearly wallowing in the muck of the uncanny valley.
It’s that recurring contradicting duality – ironically fitting given Gemini Man’s title – that inevitably hamstrings the production somewhat. As staggeringly good looking and well choreographed as some of the action sequences are, others are hard to parse out as Lee frustratingly stages them in dim and shadowy environs. The script has received half a dozen rewrites over the years, and yet it’s an incredibly simplistic offering.
The end result is a film that is both ambitious and tame in its filmmaking, reminiscent of when Avatar ushered in the 3D age in 2009 on the back of a quasi “Pocahontas in space” story. And just like then, with its action and visuals I would still recommend everybody to experience the big-screen spectacle of Gemini Man for themselves (IMAX preferred, but even standard cinemas will work). Would this be a glimpse of the inevitable future of cinema like Avatar was? Unlike the visuals in this film, that’s not clear.
Last Updated: October 6, 2019