Ang Lee is a very interesting director; and for the most part I have enjoyed his work. Brokeback Mountain is one of the best movies of that decade. He usually has a film worth discussing and thinking about. Even in his missteps like Hulk, it’s an interesting kind of bad. It’s unique enough to separate itself from the pack, and I would even dare to say he is one of the most underrated artists of our time. Oddly enough, Will Smith is in sort of the same boat. When Will Smith is good, he is great. When he is bad, he is interestingly bad. Will Smith rarely bores or is in a picture that merits no lasting power. He is just so charismatic, he leaves an impression. So what happens when you put two of the most interesting people in Hollywood together for the first time ever? You get Gemini Man.
Ang Lee is a great visual director. In other news, water is wet. So, Gemini Man is well directed. However, there are a couple issues that keep it from being in the same class as his other movies. I did not see this in a high frame rate screening. So, I can’t really speak to the quality of that version of the movie. However, I will speak to how it affected the standard version of the movie that will be the most viewed by the public. Look, I will always champion new and inventive ways to approach making a movie. So, I applaud Ang Lee in his choice to explore a new technique to potentially move the medium forward. However, I feel like that decision kind of tampered the film immensely. In order to accommodate the higher frame rate, Lee had to make the entire movie brighter. Gemini Man’s color palette is all wrong. It just looks very fake and it never lets the audience get fully immersed. There is a scene in a dark catacomb that looks like the sun shining through a window on an early afternoon. The film always feels like one is watching it on TV. It has the look and feel of a television show more than an expensive action flick that needs to be playing in cinema. That being said, the action sequences are really put together. The motorcycle chase scene in the middle of the film has very creative parts and ideas that reward the audience for the slight wait to get to any action. All of that is done well and probably looks really cool in 120 frames per second. So, while I give Ang Lee a thumbs up for the effort, it’s a very half-hearted one.
The plot of Gemini Man has some great ideas behind it. But it also plays a lot of story beats very safe. There is nothing all that shocking about the movie. The audience will just be waiting for the plot beats to play out exactly as one would think they would. The audience will know where every character will end up by the film’s conclusion. But the action sequences are done so well that it offers up a decent enough distraction. I also did like when the film would play around with the troupes of an assassin story, like when Will Smith’s character decides to retire from that life before an accident would happen, instead of him retiring when he an accident does pop off. It’s refreshing to see someone struggle with their age and their capabilities in their work in a movie like this, but for any bit where that would happen, it would be undercut with standard plot. Like the villains are underwritten and are just a passing thought for the screenwriters. They aren’t explored in-depth hardly at all; it’s all surface level. So, as much as I do like certain plot beats, others seem like they are on cruise control.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Will Smith does a good job here. Once again, water is still wet. However, there is one massive caveat to that statement; I think when Will Smith is playing the main character he fares way better than when he is playing his younger clone. It’s a complicated matter cause I honestly do not know how much of that is his fault and how much of that is the effects work. I know how good Will Smith is, and if I were to venture a guess, I’d say the effects are to blame. However, it is worth mentioning that when he is playing the clone, it is spotty at best. But when he is playing the main character, he is very good. He plays a tired assassin with a surprising amount of grace and ease. Plus, as per usual, his charisma guides him through the runtime. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also does a quality job here. Her and Smith play off of each other well. Unfortunately, that’s where the positivity ends when it comes to performances and characters. Clive Owen plays the villain, and he comes off like a cheap knock off of a Ben Mendelsohn villain. It’s just odd. Benedict Wong is also in this as the comic relief, and it has been awhile since I’ve seen a character serve as nothing else but comic relief. It’s been a couple days since I’ve seen the movie and I have no idea why he was even in the film at all. He literally does nothing but spout poor imitations of MCU quips and disappear so Smith and Winstead can do plot stuff.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score done by Lorne Balfe was well done. It had the vibrant beats you’d expect out of an action film. The motorcycle chase in particular was composed to perfection, and that helps get the audience invested and maybe even get them feeling a little bit of tension. I also thought the sound mixing was pretty good as well. There is a fist fight scene between Winstead and a random goon that actually sounds like fists hitting off skulls. It’s not loud and bombastic, but understated, and for the life of me, I could not remember a fist fight sounding so realistic in a movie. So, I thought that was cool.
As mentioned in the direction section, I did not see it in high frame rate so I can’t speak on it. However, I did mention the diminishing effects it had on this version of the film, although that isn’t the only big draw to the piece; the other one being a complete CGI young version of Will Smith. The tricky part is that it’s extremely hit or miss. Because the film is lit to the extreme, there is never a chance to hide the shortcoming of the CGI. Even in the “dark” catacombs, it never feels like a full effect. The eyes and mouth never look real, and it’s distracting at best and horrifying at worst. The movie ends on the effect looking its absolute worst. That will be the final impression the audience is left on, and it’s a sour note to conclude. It’s a shame because the idea had loads of potential, and Ang Lee is the director to make it work visually. However, when you marry the concept of high frame rate with the idea of a de-aged CGI version of an actor, it doesn’t end well. Also, there is a shot in the movie with a zoom in on Benedict Wong flying a plane and it looked like an effect straight out of a SyFy original movie. It stuck with me and I had to mention it here. I have no idea what Lee was thinking leaving that in the film.
I know it may sound like I was being very hard on Gemini Man. However, I think this is a situation where I liked the movie despite some very obvious shortcomings. I truly did like it. I just feel like its level of ambition in the visual department, while commendable, held it down a tad. I do respect Ang Lee and the crew for putting themselves out there and trying to do something to take this premise and do something to make it stand out. I feel much like Icarus: they flew too close to the sun and the brightness of the sun lit the movie to make it look off. I do think Gemini Man is worth a watch, as it is enjoyable enough. If nothing else then just to see an attempt at expanding the medium and getting a solid Will Smith performance out of it. However, the shortcomings are enough for me to say wait to watch it when they play it non-stop on TNT in a couple years.