Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Love him or hate him, Ang Lee’s filmography is worth admiring. No matter the quality (looking at you “Hulk”) at least he tries to push the technological advances in terms of high frame rates, and crisp 3D presentation. He accomplished all that and more with 2012’s breathtaking “Life of Pi” and he reaches for those limits again in his latest “Gemini Man.” This is a film where mega superstar Will Smith goes to toe with a younger version of himself through the use of state-of-the-art de-aging technology courtesy of WETA Digital. On paper, it sounds cool except a duel performance from Smith (and a few cool chase sequences) can’t save a wooden script that feels as though it was written in another language and then spat out by Google translator. In other words, it’s a very bad movie that has lofty ambitions.
Hard to believe a filmmaker who was in sync with human emotions in “Brokeback Mountain” and “Sense & Sensibility” couldn’t inject any life into his latest blunder. The film is clearly trying to rehabilitate Smith’s persona as a mainstream action hero, and somehow the marriage between him and Lee never connects or has any warmth. Behind its high-tech visual gimmicky, “Gemini Man” is an excruciatingly painful movie to sit through, brought on this earth for the sole reason to please international audiences and fanboys geeking over high frame rate 3D (it should be noted that no theater in the United States is equipped to show the film in its true 3D 4K format signaling Lee is clearly ahead of his time). Thus “Gemini Man” feels like the sum of Smith’s earlier career successes. A high concept thriller where a rogue assassin (the “best of the best”) is hunted for the information he may or may not know. It’s a thin premise filled with stock characters, wooden dialogue, and a seemingly amateurish vibe that, in today's era, rips off “John Wick” and “Jason Bourne.”
Smith stars as Henry Brogan, a hitman whose career track record is unmatched: 72 kills and the ability to shoot a target directly in the head on a moving train from miles away. He’s finally starting to see a means to an end, mainly because he looks in the mirror and he doesn’t like what he sees. Needless to say, the screenplay doesn’t allow much time to soak up Henry’s PTSD laden memory, before the body count slowly starts to rise again.
In fact, Brogan wants to retire and spend his days fishing off the Georgia coast, but corrupt insiders at the DIA have other ideas. Que fromer Army buddy Clay Varris (Clive Owen doing his best to salvage a character so desperate for a rewrite), now a military head honcho working on a secret unit of perfect warriors, all genetically engineered to kill on command. His star pupil is Junior (Smith again whose been digitally de-aged), a 25-year-old clone of Brogan who Varris has taken under his wing.
Since Varris believes Brogan knows too much to retire peacefully, he sends in the clone, literally, to kill him on the grounds that the only person who can kill the elite assassin is, well, himself. Brogan goes on the run with fellow officer Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and pilot sidekick Baron (Benedict Wong). Sparks fly and loyalties are tested before the inevitable showdown between Brogan and his younger counterpart in all parts of the world including: Colombia, Hungary, and finally Georgia.
Lots of chatter has been made of the main selling point in “Gemini Man” regarding the de-aging of Smith. Give credit to Lee’s visual team for putting together a solid foundation for the future of this tech (I haven’t seen “The Irishman” but I hear the de-aging in that film is revolutionary). It’s a marvel to see the “Fresh Prince” restored to his formative years, and some of the hand-to-hand combat sequences are expertly crafted (including a motorcycle chase that turns into a motorcycle battle). Is this the future of movie-going? Identifying new ways to utilize bankable actors past their prime? We saw it with Samuel Jackson this year with “Captain Marvel” and it’ll arise again with the aforementioned “The Irishman” - so if you’ve got the money I’d say yes. However, in one of the final scenes, which features both men in bright daylight, does it expose how clunky and oddly rendered the younger Smith looks (like some misconstructed mannequin). It’s so bad, it makes you question how any studio thought it was viable to throw it on screen.
Nobody will fault Dion Beebe’s defined and well shot cinematography, or the wide screen angles of the glossy city landscapes Lee peppered throughout the film, but when your film is backed with over $100 million dollars, you’re left to wonder how could a film of this caliber feel so cheap?