Gemini Man is a film that was 20 years in the making, but it didn’t update its story with its technology.
After spending two decades in development, Gemini Man finally got its release in theaters. Directed by Ang Lee, the action-thriller follows a hitman who is targeted by a young clone of himself while on the run from the government. Known for his work with jaw-dropping visuals, Lee’s Gemini Man was filmed at a high frame-rate of 120 FPS and utilized de-aging technology for its main star. The Skydance produced action-thriller stars Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Clive Owen. Spoilers after the trailer.
If Visuals Were Its Yin, Then Logic Was Its Yang
Gemini Man was stuck in development limbo for 20 years because the idea for the film was ahead of the technology at the time of its conception. Originally, The Mouse purchased the rights to produce and release the film, but the technology to create a CG clone of the lead actor wasn’t good enough for the big screen. Fast forward to 2019, Ang Lee and Will Smith team up in an ambitious movie that pioneers “digital creation” in a way that we haven’t seen before. More on this later.
Shot at 120 frames per second, which is nearly 5 times faster than the standard 24 frames per second, the digital detail catches your eye before the digitally created character Junior Brogan (Will Smith) appears on the screen. I saw this film in standard 2D, so the IMAX experience may have been different, but either way, no theater in America is able to screen this film the way it is supposed to be seen. This alone makes Gemini Man an interesting watch.
Ang Lee’s work behind the camera is fun, creative and beautiful, but all the logic goes out the door to capture those shots. During the film’s first act, there is an action sequence where the older Henry Brogdon (Will Smith) fights Junior in the streets of Colombia. The framing and tracking shots during the motorcycle chase are stunning. The adventurous chase scene could give other action films a run for their money, until it became goofy. Junior starts tail-whipping his motorcycle into Henry and uses some kind of Bike-Fu. It’s comical because he is beating the crap out of Henry with a 230 pound vehicle and Henry isn’t too phased by it, no broken bones, just a few bruises.
If the visuals were its yin, then logic was its yang. Everything you know about raising a human goes out of the window once we learn about Junior’s background. Clay Varris (Clive Owen) has been raising Junior unbeknownst to Henry and wants the clone to eliminate his elder. The film establishes Henry as the once in a lifetime assassin, yet the younger clone, who doesn’t have the same life experiences as Henry, can duplicate his every move. That’s not how nature works, but the film insists on treating its audience as if we are stupid.
Stand All The Way To The Side….. Characters.
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) agent Dani Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Henry’s old friend Baron (Benedict Wong) are two characters who aren’t given much to do. During the first act, Zakarweski goes full dentist on a foe and knocks his teeth out to get the answers she’s searching for. She starts off as a confident female lead, but we can’t have good things, this film is about the twins – the Geminis. Once Junior is introduced, she is just here to dump exposition. She even has to explain to Henry that Junior is his clone, which is an (unintentional) EL-OH-EL moment.
As for Baron, he’s just here so Henry can travel out of the country. Whether it’s a private plane or a G-6, Baron has it covered. It’s never explained how he has easy access to these planes or why, it’s almost like the script says these characters have to be across the world and so they are. Luckily for Dani and Baron, they’re portrayed by two actors who have plenty of natural charisma, but they’re both heavily underutilized.
No Matter The Amount Of Frames Per Second, You Cannot Escape The Uncanny Valley
As a still image, the de-aging of Will Smith looks perfect. The images look like someone paused a remastered for high-definition episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. However, once Junior is in motion he begins to enter the uncanny valley. Using an actor who has years of footage from when he was younger for a frame of reference was a smart move by the studio. Since Will Smith has been around for decades, it makes it even more noticeable when his “digital creation” is on screen.
There are multiple close-up shots of Junior’s face and he looks dead in the eyes. You can see the lack of a soul at 120 frames per second. The movie does its best to hide the uncanny valley by making Junior appear in dark or dimly lit rooms with shadows on his face. This works for 70% of the film, but when the camera is tight, the uncanny valley peeks its way through. They phoned it in at the end of the film because Junior doesn’t even look like Will Smith during the film’s sitcom like happy ending.
The Fresh Prince couldn’t will his way through the sloppiness of the film’s script. Is Gemini Man the worst film of the year? No, it is not. However, for a film that spent 20 years in development, the writers forgot to update the script with the technology that they were waiting for. This movie was a vortex because everything about it was underwhelming and felt like it got sucked into mediocrity. Ang Lee’s directorial vision was as sharp as ever, but it was swapped for logi. Every actor in this film could’ve been swapped out for some no name actor because no one is given anything to do. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong and Clive Owen are all wasted and are given the most generic of character traits. Will Smith had to portray a dual role just to deliver lackluster dialogue twice! (
technically, THRICE!!) Gemini Man is going to be a template for digital creations of the future, so at least it has one good thing going for it.
[All Mames Wey]
Gemini Man was released in theaters on October 11, 2019.
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