Gemini Man Review
Gemini Man (2019)
Dir: Ang Lee | Cast: Benedict Wong, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Will Smith | Writers: Andrew Niccol, Billy Ray (screenplay), Christopher Wilkinson, Darren Lemke (screenplay), Darren Lemke (story), Darren Lemke (Written by), David Benioff (screenplay), David Benioff (story), Stephen J. Rivele
Just like when Robert Zemeckis became obsessed with the idea of perfecting motion capture following The Polar Express, and seeing diminishing returns in his filmography as a result, Ang Lee is increasingly abandoning character dramas to experiment with uncanny valley technology. After Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, one of the director’s biggest box office bombs (that didn’t even get released in its intended 3D 120fps in the UK), Lee has only doubled down on his use of high frame rate technology in the intervening years. Gemini Man is the disorienting viewing experience I can only assume Billy Lynn was, but at least this visual style is a better fit for a studio action blockbuster than an intimate character drama.
Well, to a certain extent anyway. Gemini Man feels like a director for hire gig for Ang Lee, who was presumably eager to take on any project that would allow him to use this technology to its full potential - and as a result, feels more the work of producer Jerry Bruckheimer than the repeat Academy Award winner. It’s the perfect cheesy, throwback 90s action movie that is best experienced on Netflix after two beers and a pizza, or with a pounding hangover the next morning. On the big screen, it exists purely as a blockbuster curio, worth the admission fee just to experience its strange visual innovations for yourself, but has nothing in its story that Bruckheimer didn’t already churn out two decades earlier.
Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is an assassin for the DIA, who is hoping to finally enter an early retirement. However, he’s considered one of the best hitmen working for the Government, and they aren’t planning to let him go so easily - and the next thing he knows, he’s being followed by DIA operatives (led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Danny Zakarweski) tailing his every move. Soon, things go from bad to worse, as the director of the shadowy “Gemini” program (Clive Owen) pulls out all the stops to kill Henry before he can retire. And he’s going to use the best weapon to make that possible - a clone of Henry named “Junior”.
To approach Gemini Man as a new Ang Lee film is to set yourself up for disappointment; there is none of the slow paced subversion of blockbuster expectations as evidenced in his take on Hulk, nor the quiet character moments of his most recent brush with big budget spectacle, Life of Pi. But his fascination with perfecting this technology makes it understandable as to why he’d sign on to make something so completely out of character. And I can only assume he’s going to remain in this frame of mind, as he hasn’t exactly perfected it here; hand to hand fight sequences are borderline incomprehensible, chase sequences look like video games, and every scene of characters talking feels uncomfortably like high definition television.
Some moments are impressive (an underwater flashback sequence shows what this technology is capable of), but for the most part, it’s distracting window dressing on a film that’s fun precisely because it feels like a throwback, not a cutting edge, boundary pushing blockbuster. The grace of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s wuxia sequences is notably absent here - although it would be interesting to see if many of the fight and chase sequences still look incoherent in the standard 24fps format. Many of these scenes are filmed on handheld cameras, which means every single jerk of the camera, combined with the action onscreen, contributes to a feeling of seasickness when viewed in the way Lee desires. If viewed in standard definition, this would be a perfectly enjoyable, but disposable (and altogether unremarkable) slice of action cheese, and would arguably be all the better to take in because of it.
Gemini Man is released in the UK on Friday 11 October