NOTE: Screened in IMAX 3D at a High Frame Rate (HFR) of 60 frames per second (60fps).
Gemini Man does disappointingly little with its inherently fascinating premise. Director Ang Lee and star Will Smith deliver fun set pieces and some stunning visual effects work. But the by-the-numbers screenplay keeps the movie from achieving its full potential.
Henry Brogan (Smith) is the greatest marksman alive. As age takes its toll, Brogan decides to retire. But his former employers at Gemini, a military contractor, don’t like loose ends. Clay Verris (Clive Owen) sends his own best killer to hunt down Brogan: Junior (also Smith), a younger clone of Brogan. The elder Brogan is forced to go on the run with covert operative Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and pilot/friend Baron (Benedict Wong) while being hunted by a younger, faster, and stronger version of himself.
Two-time Academy Award-winner Ang Lee knows his way around a movie camera. He knows how to harness cutting-edge technology, combine it with tried-and-true storytelling techniques, and create entertainment that both touches and enthralls.
And enthrall, Gemini Man does, albeit inconsistently. The movie springs to life during its set pieces, which are expertly designed, shot, and choreographed. An early bike chase through the streets of Cartegena is arguably the high point, while the long-awaited “Smith vs. Smith” fight is worth the wait.
The success of the action scenes is also largely due to the HFR 3D. For those of you who have never experienced HFR, it’s akin to the dreaded Soap Opera Effect on your TVs. But that effect interpolates frames to fill in non-existent gaps, creating a smearing and unnatural look. Gemini Man was shot at 120fps and, ideally, would be played back at that same frame rate. The vast majority of movies ever made are shot and played at 24fps.
With so much more visual information (even at 60fps, which is how I saw it), there’s an incredible clarity and immediacy to what you’re watching. Textures stand out, car chases are more intense, and hand-to-hand combat is more visceral (if a little hard to follow at times). The 3D also adds to the experience, and for those of you who don’t care for 3D, I’d suggest watching an HFR 3D movie. The extra frames smooth out the inherent judder of 3D and bring additional clarity and depth to the image.
In between the action scenes, however, the movie falters. The screenplay – credited to David Benioff (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), Billy Ray (Captain Phillips), and Darren Lemke (Shazam!), with a story by Benioff and Lemke — is standard action-thriller material. This is the type of movie you would’ve seen Stallone or Seagal make in the late 1980s/early 1990s, if the technology to de-age them had been available. With a plot this predictable and characters this thinly written, it’s hard to stay invested, even with the actors doing their best.
Will Smith is perfectly fine in the role. Aside from the demands of having to essentially play two characters, there isn’t much here to stretch his dramatic chops. This is a “movie star” role, something Smith could’ve easily done 10-20 years ago in his prime, and he’s still capable of turning in a solid performance. The rest of the cast exists in his shadow, but their performances are also good (especially Winstead).
The HFR cinematography is excellent; the movie looks a little cheap at times, but HFR can have that effect. Editing is tight, the score is bland, and sound design is excellent. The visual effects to de-age Smith are surprisingly very good, save for the final scene. My only caveat would be that Junior’s voice always sounds detached from the young Smith that we’re seeing. It’s a weird disconnect that I never really got used to.