Jacob Richardson | 11/10/2019
An incredible technical achievement masks what is, at its core, a relatively standard actioner with a lot of heart.
Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is a government assassin, who feels his skills fading with age. When he tries to retire, he becomes a threat. Both he and a minder placed on him, Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), are hunted down by hit teams sent by Clay Varis (Clive Owen); Brogan’s former boss when he was in the military. Brogan and Danny escape with the help of old army buddy Baron (Benedict Wong), but when they reach a safe house they find another assassin has tailed them there - an assassin named Junior (also Will Smith), who looks a lot like Brogan. As Brogan, Danny and Baron fly across the world in the hopes of stopping their persecution, they have to come to grips with the exact nature of this supersoldier, and why he looks so much like Brogan.
Gemini Man doesn’t have an interesting, unique or well-thought-out plot. For the most part, this is the same actioner we have seen a million times before. That doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but it certainly makes the twists and turns expected. There is no moment in this movie that you can’t see coming a million miles off, and that always drops the stakes significantly. We aren’t on the edge of our seat as much as we should be, because we don’t truly believe in the danger on display - not when we know exactly how these things tend to play out.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with a standard, unassuming actioner when done well, and particularly when done well with Will Smith. Smith is entertaining in even the most thankless roles, and here he has tremendous fun playing the young and old versions of himself. Director Ang Lee wisely avoids too much romantic tension with his much younger co-lead Winstead, and instead focuses on the odd dynamic between the young and old versions of Smith. This gives a lot of room to play with, and the way that they interact is fascinating. At times, they have a father son dynamic, and at others an almost brotherly feel, but you never shake the feeling that this relationship isn’t quite like either of those, because they are literally the same person; but also not.
This leads to what is the most interesting aspect of the film; the technical achievement. Lee’s vision for this technologically enabled wizadry is what sets Gemini Man apart from the pack of chonky action blockbusters. The first element of this is in the incredible digital double of the young Will Smith. Frequently intensely lifelike, Lee doesn’t shy away from focusing on this computerised phantom, even with closeups and dramatic scenes. While it may look unconvincing in some of the fast paced action (probably due to the way the young Will Smith super assassin is designed to move), it is astounding in close up emotional scenes like when Junior is confronting who he once thought was his father.
The second tech piece is around the high frame rate (HFR), which is used to much less nauseating effect here than in other films. Instead, the HFR makes the action feel that much more alive. It does make shots of the trio standing on a beach, for example, look like a studio backlot, but it also brings a delightful sense of life to moving landscapes, action set pieces, and tracking shots.
In the end, Gemini Man won’t be remembered for its story. But it will be remembered for its crowning technical achievement.
Not a good movie by any stretch, but the combination of Will Smith and the incredible technical prowess makes this worth watching.