“I’m retiring,” says DIA assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) confidently, positive that everything’s going to work out and a happy life of fishing and solitude lies in store for him. Except it obviously doesn’t, because Gemini Man is determined to play cliché bingo with every Hollywood action thriller known to man.
Director Ang Lee’s recent obsession with the limits of digital technology has come at the expense of the complex and interesting narratives he used to preside over, and while there are perhaps technical achievements present in this film, narratively it isn’t worth enough to make it an interesting experiment. Beyond the high frame rates, the motion capture technology and some kinetic and impressive action sequences there is only a hodgepodge of hackneyed ideas in a bland screenplay.
This is particularly interesting because the film has been rewritten countless times since the idea was first conceived around twenty years ago, a sign perhaps that constant rewrites end up deviating a film towards the unoriginal. Ostensibly, the film tells the story of the aforementioned Henry Brogan, an assassin eager to retire after completing his final job for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Brogan’s retirement is interrupted when he discovers that his final kill wasn’t quite all it seemed on the surface, leading him to have to run from the very agency that employed him.
So far, so derivative, but Gemini Man‘s central gimmick is that Will Smith ends up having to fight himself as he plays both Brogan, and a much younger clone. The action scenes on their own are well choreographed and there is something interesting to watching Smith take himself on in a fight, and the sequences are snappily shot, moving along at a good pace. The de-aging technology used on Smith for his younger adversary is sometimes convincing, but sometimes borders on the uncanny valley, seeming slightly too wooden to be truly believable. Nevertheless, it is serviceable enough to be enjoyable while the novelty lasts.
The issue is that it doesn’t last long, and all that’s left to do is count up the number of clichés to see if you’ve got a full house. Admittedly, any thriller of this kind succumbs to tropes somewhat, but the problem can be overcome with a suitably snappy, witty script. Sadly, this is anything but that, and good performances don’t do enough to make up for it either. Smith is typically charismatic and Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes a good fist of it throughout, they just suffer from having to deliver the lines the script throws at them, which sometimes verge on the bizarre, such is their desire to tick almost every box in the manual. Clive Owen chews the scenery well as the villain and is entertaining to watch as he makes the most of how much he’s asked to ham it up, while Benedict Wong is always watchable, though unfortunately not given enough to do.
Ultimately, Gemini Man feels like an excuse for its director to play with new technology rather than deliver a suitably engaging film. The gimmicks are all interesting enough for a while, but once the plot starts to seep through there isn’t much to get invested in since it’s arguably more mechanical than the technology itself. A thriller without the thrills.
Dir: Ang Lee
Scr: David Benioff, Billy Ray, Darren Lemke
Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Ralph Brown, Linda Emond, Ilia Volok
Prd: Jerry Bruckheimer, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger
DOP: Dion Beebe
Music: Lorne Balfe
Country: United States, China
Run time: 117 minutes