Acclaimed director Ang Lee employs cutting edge technology in the big-budget actioner, Gemini Man. But it seems his shiny new toys might have distracted the director from some more prosaic concerns – like a credible story.
The tech is pretty impressive. Lee uses what’s known as HFR 3D. The process combines 3D techniques with a high frame rate (hence, HFR) – 60 frames per second rather than the usual 24. The result is visually spectacular, though Lee seems to still be finding his feet with the technology. Lee composes so many shots with something sitting in the foreground while something else happens in the background, it becomes tiresome after a while. Apparently the high frame rate is meant to ensure things don’t get “lost in the blur”. But that very clarity sometimes works against the film – particularly in its set-piece motorcycle chase. The action is so clear, it actually drains the scene of any sense of dynamism. It’s like it’s happening in slow motion. Things in real life don’t happen with that kind of clarity, making it seem almost surreal. It needed the “blur”.
As for the story itself, it’s a kind of “Bourne-lite”. Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, a top-line sniper. The film opens with Brogan’s last mission for the CIA – a long range hit on a man travelling in a high-speed train. With that out of the way, Henry retires to the coast of Georgia (the US state, not the country) to indulge in some recreational fishing. At the local boathouse he meets Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and soon works out that she’s not a student on summer break, but a surveillance operative sent by the Agency. Things take a turn for the worse when a team of assassins try to liquidate both Henry and Danny. But help arrives in the form of Henry’s former Army buddy Baron (Benedict Wong). He spirits the pair away to a hideout in South America. But they’re not out of danger yet; because Junior (also Will Smith, but made digitally younger) is on his trail. A near-miss with Junior leads Henry to Europe to discover Junior’s secret – and his connection to Clay Verris (Clive Owen) and his shadowy Gemini project.
Like the Bourne films, Gemini Man offers double-crosses, shady loyalties and exotic locales. Unlike the Bourne films, its ideas are pretty shallow. And that’s even before we get to the plot holes, some of which are gaping. And don’t even get me started on the stiff but bizarre coda to the film. Lee tries dabbling in some nature-vs-nurture pop psychology, but the way the film deals with it is as trite as it is perfunctory.
It’s almost as if Lee fell into the trap of allowing his enthusiasm for the process to overwhelm the plot. Mind you, a team of (at least) three screenwriters put the script together, which is sometimes a sign of problems with the material. Lead screenwriter David Benioff has been heavily involved with Game of Thrones, so knows his way around action.
Will Smith anchors the film with his trademark blend of bravado and charm as Henry. His second role as Junior requires him to be petulant and mopey, making the character less successful and less likeable. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) is great when she gets a chance, but the script sidelines her for large stretches. Benedict Wong (Avengers: Endgame) seemed oddly wooden as Baron; while Clive Owen (Ophelia) sneers his way through the role of Verris.
The blend of visual fireworks but plot stodginess makes Gemini Man a difficult sell. Great visuals can only take you so far; and certainly aren’t enough to sustain a 2-hour movie. That said, this is a film that needs to be seen in 3D on the big screen. Without those technical sparks, this would be a dull experience indeed.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television