Gemini Man is very much an exercise in tech-over-story cinema. A by the numbers tale of a retired government assassin being chased by his younger, cloned self, Ang Lee’s latest venture overly simplifies every other aspect of the filmmaking process in lieu of a “can we pull this off” attitude when it comes to the visual effects. And pull it off they do. 90 percent of the time.
Will Smith is Henry Brogan, a government trigger man who’s seeking the peaceful life after years of war. A man who can take out a target on a high speed train at long distances, it’s fair to say that he’s at the top of his game when he bows out. Will Smith also plays Junior, a young man with an eerily familiar visage and a penchant for athletic violence who’s being directed by the so-obvious-a-villain-it-hurts-my-soul Clay Verris (Clive Owen), the man behind a private army / conglomerate, Gemini. After Brogan makes it known that he would like to leave his old life behind, Junior is dispatched to make Brogan’s retirement a little more concrete.
It has to be said up front that, storywise, there just isn’t much there. The plot is thin, story points are dolled out through lengthy chunks of exposition and the script (which has been floating around Hollywood in various iterations since 1997) could have used at least another two or three drafts to add some much needed depth to the characters and their motivations. Anyone with even a general interest in espionage / globetrotting thrillers can see where this whole thing is going from the outset.
But, that’s not why we’re here.
There real meat of the film, its reason for even existing in the first place are the visual effects. De-aging technology isn’t exactly new. It’s been toyed with here and there in various forms, either horrendously (Tron: Legacy) or to the point where it’s impossible to tell (one Nick Fury in Captain Marvel). Where Gemini Man differs, particularly from the latter, is that Junior, or at least his face is an almost completely digital rendering of a younger Smith, as opposed to de-wrinkling Smith’s 51 year old features.. The end result is an often remarkable thing to behold. The vfx team behind Junior’s creation have pulled off something near groundbreaking, and even the moments when it doesn’t quite work and the audience inadvertently gets to peer behind the curtain, it ends up appearing like an incredibly well rendered video game cut scene. It’s Lee’s insistence to shoot the film in razor sharp 120 frames per second where the effect comes under scrutiny, as the haze / grain of cinema is almost completely done away with and you’re left watching every little detail in higher than high def clarity.
Still, Lee shows that his Crouching Tiger chops are still in full effect. The man knows how to stage an action sequence with the best of them. A cat and mouse shootout turned dirt bike chase turned dirt bike fight was a particularly fist clenching moment that will definitely make you hold your breath.
All in all, however, Gemini Man feels like incredibly expensive test footage. If the story didn’t feel like nothing more than an afterthought, Lee and co could have had something brilliant on their hands. Which is a shame, because this film is a herald of the future of cinema and vfx technology, and that future is coming faster than we realize.