This generic Will Smith thriller is the first High Frame Rate film to play in Tulsa
Will Smith and Will Smith in Gemini Man
I never thought I’d see a film from Ang Lee that I wish had been directed by Michael Bay instead, but here we are.
There’s something to be said for Bay’s over-the-top excess and machismo swagger, particularly in early hits like The Rock and Bad Boys. His obnoxious bravado can bolster a multitude of idiocy, offering a self-aware wink as he indulges in it.
When you strip that away, though, what you’re left with is something like Gemini Man, a by-the-numbers thriller that has no style to make up for its lack of substance. The result is a stilted, lifeless time-waster, despite Ang Lee experimenting with digital technologies on the forefront of where the industry appears to be headed, though not necessarily for the better.
Regardless, a movie whose whole raison d’être is to advance the medium forward shouldn’t look so cheap.
Feeling like the first draft of a ‘90s action screenplay dusted off the studio stockpile, Gemini Man stars Will Smith as Henry Brogan, a retiring hitman who now finds himself a target of the government he faithfully served. The sniper tasked to take him out, however, isn’t just some new hotshot; he’s a young clone of Brogan who was made and raised in a top secret intelligence program.
It’s a less clever variation of Rian Johnson’s Looper, plodding through a half-hour of setup before the two finally face off. It then churns on for 20 minutes more before Brogan and Junior (the early-20s clone) actually discover that their DNA is identical, each one an unwitting victim in a Machiavellian experiment.
A better, more economical script would’ve gotten to and then past those twists we know are coming, but suspense and script work seem to be the least of Lee’s concerns. Instead, his motivating interest with Gemini Man is the tech it affords him to develop, namely High Frame Rate video (HFR) and photo-real human animation.
Motion pictures are composed of 24 frames per second. A few years ago, filmmakers began to experiment with 48 fps (notably Peter Jackson with his Hobbit trilogy), and now Ang Lee nearly triples that to 120 fps. The goal: a sharper, near window-like image, especially when in 3D. The reality: a soap opera video aesthetic that degrades the cinematic illusion rather than providing an immersive leap forward. (You can judge for yourself at AMC Southroads 20; they screen this version in one of their theaters. Everywhere else utilizes a traditional 24 fps presentation.)
More successful are effects that resurrect a Fresh Prince-era Will Smith into the nemesis of the now 51-year-old. Different than recent actor de-aging techniques, this is wholesale digital animation. The result is impressive and mostly convincing, with only the occasional artificial giveaway.
Nevertheless, Gemini Man is ultimately a compromise, a case where a studio gives an auteur a bunch of money to play with the digital toys he’s obsessed with and, in return, he gives them the conventional genre flick they can easily market.
A couple of solid action sequences aside (the first showdown especially), it’s surprising and sad to see Lee, a two-time Academy Award winner (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) become representative of what’s mostly wrong with Hollywood.