By: Hawk Ripjaw (Five Beers) –
Gemini Man, or: How Much Will Will a Will Smith Smith if a Will Smith Will Smith Will?
Will Smith stars as Henry Brogan, which might be the most 90s-ass name I’ve ever heard. Brogan is the Best at What He Does™ and is even able to kill a target sitting in a moving bullet train from several hundred yards away. But Brogan is getting older, and he’s starting to develop a Guilty Conscience™. He decides to retire, and immediately deduces that the new gal working at the boat house, Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is also an agent. There’s a guy named Clay Varris (Clive Owen), and he wants Brogan dead, because former assassins are a liability, or something. So he sends a team of mercenaries after them, from which Brogan rescues Dani. They go into hiding, but shortly after Brogan is attacked by someone who looks like him and seems to know all of his moves. Holy shit, a clone! Shhh, don’t tell the characters, they don’t know! And they won’t for a long goddamn time in the movie, either!
Just let that play while you read the rest of this.
Once everyone is up to speed, we know that Varris has used Brogan’s DNA to create his very own Fresh Prince of Depression and Existential Crisis, named Junior (Will Smith f. CGI). Junior is tasked with eliminating Brogan and becoming a more perfect killing machine. They fight each other, and that’s basically the movie.
I was actually “lucky” enough to be able to see Gemini Man in the full 120 FPS 3D format in one of 14 theaters in the US capable of it (though not 4K, since no theater in America got both). There is honestly something to be said for this format having a future in film. During some of the action scenes, the picture was clear and crisp, and the motorcycle chase in particular looked really cool in how clean and robust the picture was. The climax finds Henry and Danny fleeing through a hardware store as an assailant’s chain gun tears through the shelves in products. Both in full speed and in slow motion, sparks and particles fly out of the screen, with even tracer rounds spinning in the foreground. It looked absolutely awesome, and if anything, HFR 3D is a viable format for short-form action sequences. Elsewhere, underwater sequences in the format produce a tangible difference between above and below surfaces. Even in a film like this, Ang Lee’s visual imagination is palpable.
For everywhere else, this movie looks awful. The high frame rate is a jarring sensory overload. It looks like a reality TV show or like someone left the motion smoothing on. Video Games are often at 60+ FPS, because that speed and precision is necessary for playing a video game. Simply watching something at a high frame rate is distracting. It’s difficult to describe, but my initial reaction was that I felt like I had put on a YouTube video and set it to 1.5x speed. While most of the action scenes are fine-to-good in the format, a couple of them made me queasy. Overall it mostly works for those action scenes, but looks tremendously fake during simple dialogue scenes.
After the first Will battle, Danny takes it upon herself to get the DNA samples of Henry and Junior. She returns to Henry and tells him, definitively, that Junior is an exact DNA sample and, therefore, Henry’s clone. We already know that Clay was deploying his own agent to kill Henry. If we totally disregard the movie’s marketing, which has from its inception broadcasted Young Will vs Old Will, we can put two and two together as a revelation that Clay has sent a clone of Henry to wipe him out. That reveal (which was in the trailer) is obvious enough, but whatever. Not that big of a deal.
But then, the movie proceeds to spend the following 30ish minutes dicking around with Henry visiting various people and learning that Clay is making clones and has sent one after him. We already know that Clay is the villain and is making clones, why does this have to be reiterated by several more characters across the globe?
It makes sense that the characters shouldn’t really know what the audience knows, but the way these revelations are delivered within the world of the movie isn’t interesting. Henry goes to visit a character, learns something that we as an audience already know, and then just moves to the next scene. There’s rarely anything in these expository scenes to propel the plot, so most of the middle act is the movie spinning its tires. One of these scenes in particular feels like a very obvious attempt to cash in on John Wick-style mythology, but it doesn’t work and the character involved is never seen again.
If you’re seen the trailer, you’ve heard the infinitely and infamously stupid line of dialogue, “You made a person… out of another person!” Yes, that is how both cloning and fucking work. I’m pretty sure that’s how making any person works. It’s one of a multitude of bizarre and cliched lines sprinkled throughout the movie.
The final scene might be one of the absolute worst endings I’ve seen in a movie this year. It has the tonal shift equivalent to a train flying off elevated tracks with an unbearable, Disney-ass saccharine ending complete with, I shit you not, the characters joking with each other and walking away as the camera pans up into the sky. I would put good money on this being a reshoot. Exhibit B for the reshoot theory is that CG Young Will is jarringly awful. It may be because his full face is in broad daylight (notoriously challenging for FX work), but it also looks rushed. It’s alarming.
There is absolutely no reason why a movie about an assassin facing a younger clone of himself should be boring, but Gemini Man is a desperately dull slog with absolutely nothing important to say. This should be fun. This should be like a modern twist on Face/Off, one of the best and most entertaining action films ever made. The script is almost entirely witless and extremely predictable, tragically stuffed with cliches and not a surprise to be found.
Even on a thematic level, an assassin past his prime, feeling guilty for his actions and facing a powerful version of himself when he was in his prime, should have interesting underpinnings. Instead, it’s a vessel for a series of intermittently engaging action sequences, fancy technology, and a paycheck for an extremely bored-looking Smith. The way he looks while acting here mirrors how we feel watching him.
Ang Lee is one of the most interesting directors working, mostly because of the innovating and daring visual ideas he tries to introduce to his films. These ideas have seen variable success, but it’s hard not to miss the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Ice Storm Ang Lee from years ago. Those films were great because Ang Lee has an incredible gift for visual storytelling as an extension of the great narratives he was directing. Hell, he popularized the wuxia subgenre of martial arts in Hollywood with Crouching Tiger with a thrilling, distinct, and emotionally rich blockbuster.
Gemini Man has nothing to show for itself beyond a fancy coat of paint. I can almost guarantee this will be free to stream on Starz or a similar network within a month of its digital release. Your time would still be better spent elsewhere.
Gemini Man (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Do a Shot: every time someone says “clone.”
Take a Drink: whenever the HFR is distracting.
Take a Drink: every time you correctly guess a plot event.