The press tour for Gemini Man has consisted of only two highlights: the usual boisterous persona of star Will Smith and the technical details director Ang Lee used to shoot the movie. The two-time Oscar-winning director is pushing for more advancements in digital film technology and using this new action vehicle as a test run, shooting the movie at 120-frames-per-second at 4K resolution and a 3D digital format. Lee is not going for gimmicks, he wants to advance the technology of filmmaking and make digital film look as real as humanly possible. He’s a true filmmaker, someone testing the limits of the art form and doing it with the precision required for action movies makes his efforts all the more commendable. Unfortunately, film reels and digital film don’t discriminate against bad scripts.
For something that’s been in development since 1997, Gemini Man is both straight-forward and convoluted. Its simplicity is laid out in the core of its plot: Henry Brogan (Smith) is America’s greatest hitman, but he wants to retire. His former employers, one of which includes a shady government scientist (Clive Owen), would rather he disappeared off the face of the Earth. With the help of a surveillance expert (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and a pilot (Benedict Wong), Brogan goes on the run and tries to figure out why his old bosses want him dead. Further complicating things is the presence of a mysterious and rather gifted hitman that knows everything about Brogan, probably because he looks exactly like Brogan 20 years his junior.
The obvious thing to point out right off the bat is that Gemini Man does indeed look fantastic… most of the time. Seeing the movie in 3D with the High Frame Rate (if you can find a screening) is the best possible way to see it. The movement is more fluid, the 3D is crisp and focused, the action is sharp and the entire experience is very immersive. The movie’s first extended chase scene is the highlight, following the lead of Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible movies and offering consistent flow from a foot chase to a shootout to the dirt bike race to a brief fight. But sometimes the action is a little too clean and smooth, especially when it has POV shots, almost to the point where it looks like a cut scene from the latest Call of Duty or Hitman game. The High Frame Rate also doesn’t improve the shaky-cam hand-to-hand fight scenes either, making the subjects even more blurry and unfocused.
Aside from the action, the rest of Gemini Man is rather dull and lifeless. There’s nothing particularly unique or interesting about the plot, despite being stuffed with shady government babble and euro-political dealings. The actual human dialogue is nothing to write home about either. It’s a mixture of character development and half-baked comic quips. While Dareen Lemke’s original story had an interesting pitch (a man with past demons is hunted by a living embodiment of his past), the script by Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, Overlord) and David Benioff (Game of Thrones) hammers out any sense of fun to be had from the concept.
Since there’s no fun on the page, no fun can come from the actors either. The later years of Smith’s career has been filled with nothing but miscalculation, disappointment and failure. He just can’t seem to find a project that vibes with his charisma and screen presence, with Gemini Man being no exception. One would think Smith would rise to the challenge of being a badass killer psychologically frazzled by a younger, colder version of himself (which he’d also play). Yet Smith just looks tired and bored throughout the film, misplacing whatever little charisma he spared to show in scenes and spending the rest of the runtime looking blank in the face. The same goes for his take on his younger self, frightened and even-more robotic. The special effects used to make Smith younger are impressive if not occasionally flawed (the vocal pitch seemed slightly warbled in the young Smith’s first scene), but it doesn’t hide the fact that Smith’s take on Jason Bourne and John Wick is just bland stoicism.
Winstead is a commanding presence in the lead and supporting roles she’s taken over the years, but here she also looks bored and uninvested because she has nothing to do. It’s a minor relief that she’s not a forced love interest for Smith and at least she gets a fight scene and a shootout to participate in. Still, someone who has the personality to make any character she takes on her own deserves more to do than provide cover fire for Smith. But in terms of being asleep at the wheel, Owen takes the cake as a villain who only looks to engage characters likely because someone’s waving a paycheck above the camera lens. Another actor who had his own brand of magnetism, Owens looks drained and depleted of whatever interest he might’ve had for this project, whose only defining character trait is the tracksuit he wears in the final act. The only one bringing any investment to the acting is Benedict Wong, bringing some much-needed levity to the humdrum events with his off-kilter jokes every now and then.
One day Lee will be remembered as a bold visionary for dedicating so much effort to furthering film technology and testing the boundaries of how audiences see movies in the theaters, but it is not this day and it is not with Gemini Man. Hackneyed, uninspired and most of all boring, there’s no excitement in the story and no drive from the characters. All the technical trickery in the world can’t cover for a script that’s missing spirit. There’s nothing wrong with Lee wanting to test new technology, but you can only look at a shiny picture for so long before asking, “What else is there?”