Cinema first began when man wanted to capture life as it was; alive, moving and in real-time. We invented the camera and found a way to project the silent images for an audience. Then came the talkies, then colour films. Eventually, we worked our way up to 3D; the most lifelike cinema there ever was. Well, almost. Apparently, we will stop at nothing in our pursuit for the most accurate, authentic and real representation of real-life on screen.
Ang Lee already experimented with higher frame rates with his previous film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, but unfortunately, no one cared for the film and it went largely unnoticed by audiences. Lee is now back with his 120 frames per second technology with Gemini Man, a Will Smith-vehicle which at times feels more like an experiment with the new tech rather than a film in its own right.
Gemini Man follows Henry Brogan, a recently retired hitman who finds himself a target. When faced with the other assassin, he turns out to be a younger version of Brogan himself, a clone created without his knowledge and consent. How do you fight a younger, faster and overall physically better version of yourself and come out of it alive?
From the first frames, the difference is clear. With the new tech, the image has much more depth of field and Will Smith seems to be lying down on the front rows of the cinema rather than on screen. It’s remarkably lifelike and quite breath-taking, but the magic doesn’t last very long. While the higher frame rate is perfect for the action sequences and really bringing the 3D to life, it’s wasted on scenes with a lot of dialogue. It’s distracting and invasive rather than natural when we’re observing an intimate conversation in close-ups.
Gemini Man feels like a film that was made from a first draft of a script. There’s plenty of interesting stuff in here, but it all feels rushed and under-developed. Henry’s much younger clone Junior gets a surprising amount of screen time and the film attempts to explore his humanity, but always stops just as it’s about to get good. The film seems to rush from action sequence to action sequence with expository dialogue added in between to keep the audience on track. The story is simple and predictable so it’s unclear why so much explaining is even needed.
The action sequences are exciting with a gloriously stupid motorbike chase glimpsed in trailers taking the cake. It’s an exhilarating and fun sequence, which allows for the new tech to shine. The higher frame rate and 3D complement each other nicely, the higher frame rate bringing the 3D to life in a new way.
However, Gemini Man should be a lot more fun and a lot funnier. The script, written by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke takes itself way too seriously when this should be balls-to-the-wall action movie. Its nearly 2-hour runtime feels stretched and there isn’t enough story here to justify such a length.
Will Smith, as expected, carries the film with ease and charisma. He’s effortlessly cool as Henry and Junior, although the character feels woefully underwritten. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a welcome addition, but she’s left with the thankless role of the mandatory female sidekick. Benedict Wong, who seems to be popping up in many films this year, is utterly delightful and steals almost every scene with perfectly delivered one-liners.
Overall, Gemini Man is ambitious but lacks heart and conviction from director Lee. It’s a film that might encourage people to make the trip to their local cinema as it’s a film that you won’t be able to experience the same from the comfort of your sofa. It’s a fun enough film and Will Smith is eternally watchable, but the film doesn’t match Lee’s skills as a filmmaker. Gemini Man feels like a lab rat of a film, something to test out the higher frame rate and nothing more. The narrative is generic and forgettable, but its visuals are undeniably cool and at least something different. If you like your films to look like video games, Gemini Man could be the film for you.
Dir: Ang Lee
Scr: David Benioff, Billy Ray, Darren Lemke
Cast: Will Smith, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong
Prd: Jerry Bruckheimer, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger
DOP: Dion Beebe
Music: Lorne Balfe
Country: China – USA
Run time: 117 min
Gemini Man opens 11th of October in the UK