REVIEW: Poor Storytelling Hampers ‘Gemini Man’s Potential

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Gemini Man

Gemini Man, directed by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Life of Pi), is a science-fiction film that has gained a fair amount of notoriety thanks to the cutting edge tech it used to construct a younger version of star Will Smith and the fact that Lee shot it in High Frame Rate. Gemini Man follows professional hitman Henry Brogan (Smith) as he attempts to retire after a lifetime of killing targets for the government. When an old friend tells him that one of his targets may have been innocent, the black ops unit known as Gemini, led by Clay Varris (Clive Owen) deploys a soldier meant to kill Brogan. Complicating matters, the soldier, code-named Junior, is a younger clone of Brogan, with all of his fighting skills and twice his energy. Brogan must stay a step ahead of Junior while attempting to bring down Varris and the Gemini Program.

Perhaps the most notable element of Gemini Man is the visual trickery employed when creating Junior. VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer and his team used a variety of elements, including digital mapping of Smith’s face and building a digital version of him using footage from his early performances. The effect is uncanny: the younger Smith looks like he stepped off the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Lee also made the choice to shoot Gemini Man at 120 frames per second, as opposed to the usual 24 frames per second. The end result was to have crisper, clearer images on the screen. And while Lee’s ambition is commendable, only a handful of theaters in the U.S. are equipped to play the film in its proper format.

Another standout element of the movie is its action sequences. The film takes place in a variety of settings, from Russia to Barcelona, and each one has a white knuckle, pulse-pounding fight between Brogan and Junior, or Brogan and a group of mercenaries. Lee’s camerawork is superb, never losing sight of the action as it shifts from motorcycle chases to rooftop shootouts, to hand to hand-to-hand combat. Characters think up moves on the fly as well; when Brogan tosses a grenade at Junior, Junior shoots it right back at him. Later, Junior revs up a motorcycle and sends it flying, the front wheel catching Brogan in his face. I love when characters use the environment to their advantage in action films, and this film is packed to the brim with moments like that.

Gemini Man

However, for all the great action and beautiful images, the story and characters are severely lacking. Part of this is due to the lengthy development that this film went through. The original screenplay for Gemini Man was penned by Darren Lemke in 1997. Though a host of actors, including Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise were attached to the role, Skydance Media eventually brought the rights to the script from Disney in 2016 and Lee came on to direct, with David Benioff and Billy Ray rewriting Lemke’s original script.

The end result is a film that would have felt more at home in the nineties; ironically, that was when Smith’s star shined the brightest. Smith himself has two modes as Brogan: either he’s haunted or he’s hard-assed, there’s no in-between. His performance as Junior is far more nuanced and he manages to make you feel for the young clone as his life starts to unravel. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better. Owen is stuck in a two-dimensional villain phrase, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is slotted into a stereotypical sidekick and/or potential love interest role. Benedict Wong serves as the comic relief, though what little jokes are in the film fall flat. And the dialogue is as hamfisted as it can get; Junior tells Brogan that “it’s his time now” and I had to check my ticket to make sure I didn’t walk into a screening of The Breakfast Club.

Despite the amazing leaps forward it makes in filmmaking technology and its carefully crafted action sequences, Gemini Man is hampered by a poorly written script, thin characters, and a mountain of cliches. If you are looking for a well-made science-fiction film that doubles as a character study, I highly recommend Ad Astra.

Gemini Man is playing in theaters.


Gemini Man
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

Despite the amazing leaps forward it makes in filmmaking technology and its carefully crafted action sequences, Gemini Man is hampered by a poorly written script, thin characters, and a mountain of cliches. If you are looking for a well-made science-fiction film that doubles as a character study, I highly recommend Ad Astra.