2019 | DIR: ANG LEE | STARRING: WILL SMITH, MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD, BENEDICT WONG, CLIVE OWEN | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Since Scott's passing in 2012 many names have been attached to the project including Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces) and Curtis Hanson (8 Mile) and finally the film arrives, delivered to the screen with absolute ambition by Academy Award winning director Ang Lee (Life of Pi) who has carried on the tradition of spreading the screen with all style and no substance.
Will Smith stars as Henry Brogan, a middle-aged government assassin with unrivalled skill who has his heart set on retirement. The CIA's idea of retirement is a lot more permanent, however, and they commission the only human capable of out-gunning Brogan... his 20-something year clone. Aligning himself with a female assassin (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and a former colleague (Benedict Wong) Brogan hop-scotches around the world to uncover the truth about his junior counterpart while avoiding endless assassination attempts. And thus is the crux of Gemini Man, a 90's inspired action movie that is the equivalent of The 6th Day, Looper and Replicant... pureed.
As advertised, the glaring point of difference with Gemini Man is Ang Lee's obsession with advancing cinema into the future, and following his ambitious - yet jarring – drama Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, he has picked up where he left off by further exploring the capabilities of higher frame rates. Shot at 120 frames per second (regular films are typically 24 fps) the effect on the viewer is an extremely high clarity that gives the impression of watching reality unfold before your eyes (essentially as though the screen were a stage with the actors present). The downside to this resolution is commonly known as “The Soap Opera Effect”, which often occurs on hi-def televisions when the motion-smoothing function is active. True to that moniker Gemini Man looks more like Days of Our Lives with it's lack of Hollywood veneer and the uncomfortable sense of voyeurism that comes with the high frame rate.
The frustrating facet of Lee's new craft is that his ambition abandons the audience. He's so focused on technological advancement that he's oblivious to how it translates. I applaud his tenaciousness and dedication to cinema, however I am certainly not onboard with it. If this is his vision for the future then I'm out! Gemini Man is a jarring experience that looks more aesthetically aligned with a behind-the-scenes documentary than it does a feature film. The story is generic, featuring lacklustre performances and an uninspired production design, offering only a handful of genuinely exhilarating moments to pad the space. This is a galaxy away from his former glories of Eat Drink Man Woman, The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain and even HULK.
As for the elephant in the room, the film also boasts a supposedly photo-realistic computer-generated Will Smith Jr. As opposed to ageing Smith backwards with computer trickery they've chosen to recreate him entirely from scratch, much like Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher were posthumously rendered in Rogue One. We are supposed to ogle at the mastery and celebrate their achievement, and yet this strange animation only serves to offer more discomfort to an already dissociative experience. There is no masking the imitation and Smith Jr adorns the screen like a humanoid with robotic expressions and unearthly dexterity.
Had Gemini Man made it to the screen as intended in the late 90s, the effect would have been achieved with a combination of split-screen, digital augmentation and prosthetics. It would have hit cinemas without much fanfare and, in turn, found its audience on home video. It would be a movie we remember with guilty fondness - like Demolition Man or Face Off – and we'd regale those days when practical effects reigned supreme. As it is, the movie has arrived 20-years too late and serves little more purpose than being Ang Lee's play toy.