Director: Ang Lee
Writers: David Benioff, Billy Ray, Darren Lemke
Composer: Lorne Balfe
Starring: Will Smith, Will Smith, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Gemini Man is one of those films that causes a stir; not because anyone is interested in the plot, but because of its varied formats. There are many different ways to experience this film (if you can find the right cinema), whether it’s in 3D, in 120 frames per second, or both. In Sydney there’s even 4D.
While it’s always a pleasure to see a director experimenting with the technical elements of filmmaking, it’s unusual in this day and age. Audiences are moving away from the novelty of 3D, to the extent that even 4D sessions may not even feature that format, stripping the experience back to merely being a 2D screening with moving seats.
“We had a lot of people who didn’t like 3D. So now 3D isn’t a guarantee for 4D sessions,” the manager for Sydney’s Event Cinemas, George Street informed me. Yeah… See, I booked tickets for the 4D, thinking I would get the full experience–3D, high frame rate, moving seats, everything! Found out the hard way that I didn’t pay close enough attention to the session information when I discovered that my 3D glasses “weren’t working.” Disappointed that I didn’t end up watching the film in its “full glory” as Ang Lee intended, I then had to book the 3D Hfr session and watch the movie again. Turns out these sessions are super rare in the States (there are only a handful of cinemas that can screen 120 fps), making me one of the few people in the world that can actually compare the two versions. Yep, trying to turn the fact that I ended up paying twice for this movie into a positive here…
Violence/Scary Images: Multiple gunfights resulting in death. Martial arts sequences. Two characters try to kill each other using motorcycles. Grenade explosions. A character is set alight with flames. Little in way of blood; small amounts are used to denote gunshot entry wounds, and there are close ups on deep grazes across the skin. One scene is set within the catacombs underneath the city, where skulls and other human bones are seen adorning the walls.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is dropped rarely, whilst the s-word is spoken infrequently throughout the film. God and Jesus’ names are used in vain. Lesser swear such as “a*s” and its variations, and “h*ll” are also said.
Drug/Alcohol References: One character smokes a cigar. There is a brief discussion about preferring to drink alcohol to soda. People are seen consuming alcohol in social settings.
Sexual Content: A female character is asked to strip down to her underwear in order to check for a wiretap. She is not sexually objectified.
Spiritual Content: There are loose conversations revolving around the importance of maintaining a healthy conscience, by avoiding traumatically violent deeds, and instead leading a more wholesome, traditional life.
Other Negative Content: The film deals heavily within the shady realm of espionage and assassinations, yet never passes any real judgement on the ethics of these practices.
Positive Content: The film’s message promotes the idea that all life is equal, particularly in regards to humans produced through cloning technology. It touches on the ethical quandaries regarding eugenics.
Gemini Man is a film that examines the two sides of the same coin, both on screen and behind the camera. While Will Smith’s character, Henry Brogan, questions the ethics of cloning, director Ang Lee set about creating the next best thing; a computer generated download of the Fresh Prince. There is a certain irony when the plot is assessed alongside the experimental technical elements. It’s a story that has been sweating on the studio’s backburner for the past twenty years, paired with the most innovative filmmaking techniques to date, amusingly reflecting the narrative it’s telling.
Much like the iconic 80s, the further we distance ourselves from the 90s, the easier it is to summarize and define the era. Set within an unbelievable world full of top-secret military missions, assassinations, and espionage, this fictional landscape seems all too familiar, witnessed in countless other movies. It’s glossy yet shallow, presenting a veneer of intelligent conversations while only occasionally offering an action sequence to break up the extensive exposition. Our worldwide concerns and personal cinematic tastes have changed over the last few decades, which might be one reason why Gemini Man’s story feels dated.
It’s poorly told for one. Like many other recent films, the trailer gives away the crux of the plot. Yet from a marketing perspective, they had no choice–it’s a story that’s impossible to advertise without spoiling that aspect of it. However, what’s surprising is the trailer hints towards a more suspenseful plot than what is actually seen in the movie. Maybe the trailer really did steal every ounce of mystery Gemini Man had to offer, or maybe there are more interesting ways this story could have been edited that simply weren’t explored.
On the first watch, the dense plot withconversation after conversation detailing past events and character backstories that is sometimes hard to follow. It commits the narrative crime of telling and not showing. A far more interesting film would have featured a flashback or two of Henry Brogan’s action-packed glory days. Exposition dumps are forgivable and sometimes necessary. Yet this is only when they’re written well. Gemini Man genuinely features bad dialogue. Not only is the audience overloaded with tedious backstories that could have been depicted visually, but also a lot of detail is redundant. Metaphors involving the internal conflict of the characters are painfully obvious and pathetically contrived, while the action of the plot is spelled out just in case anyone had any questions regarding the process of cloning.
It tries too hard to insert depth to an instinctually unlikeable character. The film relies too much on the goodwill of the audience; that we’ll have sympathy for Henry Brogan’s plight to retire purely because he is played by a famous, well-liked actor, or simply because the character literally says he has a conscience multiple times. Yet Brogan’s stakes feel weak. He’s not some innocent underdog who’s worked hard all his life and just wants to rest. Brogan is a killer and appears to be privy to a life of luxury. He’s not like John Wick who is dragged back into a horrible criminal underworld through traumatic circumstances. It’s difficult to love Henry Brogan when his life is so different, economically, socially, and even emotionally.
Yet by far the biggest problem is the lack of thematic weight. Most of the runtime is dedicated to exploring the shallow end of the premise, though five minutes till the end, we’re treated to a speech from the villain that offers up a potentially juicy concept. It’s a shame that the narrative withheld that point of view for so long, as it’s infinitely more exciting to ponder. Yet the hope of a strong finale dims quickly, as we’re treated with an additional twist that manages to successfully undermine character motivations, actions, and create entire plot holes. Wow. At least the fight scene at the end is good?
The fight choreography and cinematography are fairly impressive. Ang Lee opts for longer takes, not jump cutting a bazillion times like other films from this genre or story’s era. Though the fight sequences are few and far between. It makes for a lackluster 4D experience, where the cinema’s motion developers desperately search for an excuse to poke the audience during these long inactive intervals, resorting to vibrating the seats whenever Brogan gets an SMS. However when the action finally arrives, feeling the multitude of bullets whizz past your head is rather exhilarating. Regardless, Gemini Man is a poor choice of film for the 4D format, due to the overwhelming amount of time this action flick spends on the internal and not external conflict.
But what about the 3D format and Gemini Man’s crazily ambitious frame rate at 120 frames per second? When it comes to 3D, Gemini Man is one of the better films in the market. The high frame rate makes the image extraordinarily crisp, where the frame appears to have a realistic depth of field no matter the type of lens on the camera. There are no gimmicks in this aspect–nothing jumps out of the screen like one might see in an animated movie. It’s simply engaging to watch and not too distracting.
Then there’s the high frame rate…
The results are mixed. It’s not terribly noticeable in the slower scenes where two characters are merely having a conversation. Some of the drone footage used for establishing shots feels too rapid to be fully appreciated by the human eye. But it’s the action sequences that are really hit and miss.
There is an odd familiarity to the quality–it is reminiscent of first person shooter games. Indeed, there are a few shots that are taken from that perspective. The high frame rate unnaturally quickens the pace, making the action feel that little bit more chaotic, almost as though it’s reflecting the character’s heightened sense of anxiety. In this way, you can possibly see a future use for this type of technology.
The fight choreography is smooth and fluid, yet the CGI is made all the more obvious. There is a cartoonish quality that reeks of falseness that is absent in the 2D version. Yet when it comes to the technology surrounding Junior-the CGI recreation of Will Smith–it mostly holds up, even under the scrutiny of an absurdly high and detailed frame rate. It’s the best we’ve seen to date, though it is dependent on how the frame is lit. There are a few scenes in broad daylight where Junior has an uncanny valley effect going on (though this is also noticeable in the 2D version).
In the end, the 3D HFR version is the better one to watch if possible, though it’s mainly because it adds a novelty factor to an otherwise bland and sometimes boring movie. The actors do their best to entertain, but even seasoned performers like Clive Owen seem melodramatic when the story suffers from illogical progression, the dialogue is cringe worthy, and there is little to no character development. Will Smith offers up a great performance as both Brogan and Junior, though the latter feels too emotional at times within a story that’s devoid of such a response.
If there’s anything to be gained from Gemini Man, it’s an appreciation that such a movie needs to exist in order for future films to refine the application of such ground breaking technology. Like the recent Lion King, it serves as a tech demo, aiming to make enough money so that a lesser known, riskier project has the means to take the concept further. Unfortunately, unlike Lion King, Gemini Man won’t be making the same level of income, making the whole exercise feel like an excuse for Ang Lee to play with his new toys. With so few cinemas in the United States equipped to handle such experimentations, we’re unlikely to see another project such as this. Though given how utterly unmemorable every other aspect of this film is, it’s a factor that won’t be missed.
The Bottom Line