Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Will Smith, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and another Will Smith
MPAA rating; PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language
Running time: 1 hour and 57 minutes
by Daniel Scully
There are two immediately disappointing things about Gemini Man. First, since the film was shot in 4K IMAX 3D at 120 frames per second, it would stand to reason that theaters would be equipped to project it as intended. They are not. In fact, of the thousands of screens releasing the film this weekend, only fifteen in the entire country have the capability to do so. None of them are near me. Secondly, Will Smith’s latest does not feature a new remix of his hit song Just the Two Of Us, making for the biggest missed opportunity in the history of human existence. A true shame that just 19 years into it, the era once branded the Willennium has fizzled considerably for the no longer fresh prince.
No, I am still not over Collateral Beauty. I will never be over Collateral Beauty. One does not simply get over Collateral Beauty.
Gemini Man has been in development hell for the better part of two decades. Many filmmakers and stars have been attached, as well as multiple studios. Curtis Hanson and Tony Scott were both attached to it at points, as was Clint Eastwood. Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, and Nicolas Cage all turned it down as well, which is upsetting considering this is about the most Nicolas Cage-esque concept that could ever exist. Most recently, however, the script was owned by Disney and it’s their fingerprint which remains most visible on the film, even after it having left their grubby paws. What I mean is that a movie about cautionary tech and cloned hitmen is not typically as hopeful as this one, and even in a world where Disney is responsible for a lot of lost hope in the business of film, there’s no denying their uncanny ability to invoke smiles with their stories.
But this isn’t a Disney film anymore. Take that, mouse.
In Gemini Man, Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, a hitman who has spent his post-military years working for a corporation called Gemini. Gemini is an independent contractor that takes jobs the military is unwilling to handle. Basically, they do the dirty stuff that may reflect poorly upon their government counterparts. In order to prevent war, they off unsavory people with discretion. When the target is particularly difficult to kill, they bring in Henry. He’s a deadshot with a sniper rifle (Hey! Will Smith also played a sniper NAMED Deadshot!), and he’s really good at fisticuffs. If he can’t do it, no one can.
His latest mission, in which he completes an assassination on a moving train from miles away, is a success, but it’s one that the aging hitman would like to be his last. You see, killing people takes its toll on you after a while and, after such a celebrated career, our man needs some time off. But when he gets word that his final victim was killed for the wrong reasons, Henry becomes a new target for Gemini. And who do you send to kill the unkillable? Why, you send his younger, not as well-trained clone! It doesn’t make much logistical sense, but not much in the movie does. No matter, this isn’t a film about the procedural approach to murder-for-hire. This is a spectacle film, and for the most part, it delivers.
Ang Lee, who previously shot in a high frame rate for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, shoots his action with admirable clarity, and does so in such a way that even the completely digital elements look closer to photo-real than ever before. Short of a few wonky physics on the part of the digital stuntmen, it’s easy to forget that we’re essentially watching a whole lot of beautiful nothing. When the two Will Smith’s engage in fisticuffs, it’s marvelous to watch how Lee blocks his shots to allow simultaneously for clarity and the visual sleight of hand required to mask the fact that Will Smith is just one person.
Unfortunately, the spaces between the action can get pretty bland. Most of these scenes involve people blindly expositing at one another, rattling off plot details with a proper scowl or bureaucratic dispassion depending on who's talking. If it’s the former, we’re dealing with Clive Owen’s Clay Verris, the head of Gemini. As much as I love the guy, his performance is sleepy and colorless. He’s giving it his all, for sure, but it’s a pretty empty role until it isn’t, by which time not enough groundwork has been established to earn the emotional beats he’s tasked with hitting. Also along for the ride is Benedict Wong, hilarious as the well-connected pilot Baron, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Danny, the clever agent initially hired to tail our hero, but who soon finds herself being hunted all the same. It’s a role that she handles well but, once again, one that features very little opportunity to do much but wait for the action to arrive.
Overall, Gemini Man feels very in tune with other Jerry Bruckheimer productions, in that it is a broadly appealing, eye-popping action movie with hammy melodrama at its core. As such, it’s easy to forget about the narrative shortcomings and just go with the flow. It’s not so easy to forget that the main reason for seeing his movie, the 4K 3D IMAX 120 FPS projection, is largely unavailable (high frame rate can be seen locally, but the full package cannot).
And since we can’t enjoy the special effects in the way they are meant to be seen, the novelty of having two Will Smiths wears off quickly. They probably just could’ve cast his son as the younger clone. He looks as much like him as this admittedly fantastic digital version does, and has the added bonus of not requiring a special projector to blur the seams.