Having already sharpened his claws bringing a convincing CGI Tiger to life in the sublime Life of Pi (2012), director Ang Lee is back with another challenging effects-heavy movie. Challenging is certainly a word that best describes Gemini Man, though that’s more to describe the experience of sitting through it!
Gemini Man concerns 50-something assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) who finds himself pursued by both his former agency and a top-secret black ops unit code-named “GEMINI”. The assassin they send to kill him? A younger clone of Henry (also Smith)! Cue shock and horror!
Make no mistake, Gemini Man is easily the most generic and dull movie Ang Lee has ever made. Though it has moments of flair that show-off the Oscar-winning maestro’s talents, it ultimately feels painfully average in comparison to previous studio films from Lee. The occasionally inventive shots do little to distract from what is, quite honestly, beneath him, whilst his lead actor is perhaps at his most bland and un-charismatic (something which always seemed impossible for a genuine star like Will Smith).
The true issue behind this no doubt lies within the script, a dated and plodding tome that contains awful dialogue and cringe interactions by the bucketload. Plot contrivances aplenty rear themselves throughout, all building to a twist that isn’t in the least surprising or remotely satisfying, before simply ending on some unearned schmaltz. Worse still, the younger version of Smith’s character never feels like a credible threat, stripping the film of its tension and rendering the point of the whole shebang somewhat pointless. Some of this would be forgivable if the story embraced the plot’s ridiculousness and didn’t play everything so straight, but the screenwriters never once indulge in this.
The use of 120 fps High Frame Rate 3D lends the film an interesting aesthetic at first, but once the action sequences and effects-heavy scenes begin to ramp up, it only serves to hinder proceedings and make everything look disappointingly manufactured and fake. The sets look like sets, the green screen backgrounds look like green screen backgrounds and Will Smith’s de-aged, CGI double jumps the whole breadth of uncanny valley. Any element of realism is almost instantly lost. Just as it was with The Hobbit films, this type of shooting is not a good fit for effects-laden CGI movies.
The one saving grace of the film is the fluid action scenes (of which there are plenty). The stunt team and choreographers should be commended for creating lighting fast and rapid moments such as those here, all of the bone-crunching and brutal variety which livens up a pretty dull script. The fast frame rate has a lot to do with this, and thusly earns itself some favour (if only for a few seconds at a time).
At its absolute best, Gemini Man could have at least been a fun, balls-to-the-wall actioner had it embraced its own absurdity just that little bit more. Instead, it plays things remarkably straight and po-faced, despite fleeting moments where the director is striving to make it into something better. The stars look bored, the script is boring, and the effects don’t hold up to close scrutiny amidst the high frame rate.
The ultimate saving grace is that there isn’t a second one.