Ang Lee’s Gemini Man is both a futuristic taste of what 120 frames per second can do for action cinema and a confirmation of the format’s current limitations (all of which Alisha broke down in her excellent piece on the technology behind the movie). Outside of technical specifications, Gemini Man is a sappy, sentimental revenge thriller that oftentimes rocks and earns rolled eyes at the same time. Will Smith fights himself in his fresher prince form, thanks to de-aging technology that can turn back the clock with mixed results. Masked by darkness, Smith zaps back 30ish years to his spry 20s build – but in broad daylight, it’s a harder sell. Especially with the vivid clarity of 120fps, which is more real than reality itself.
As mentioned, Smith stars as government agent and gun-for-hire Henry Brogan. He’s the best of the best, which means his retirement is met with some opposition from handlers and top brass. One of these men is Clay Verris (Clive Owen), head of “Project Gemini.” Verris fears Brogan learned classified information, so he makes the call on a “clean up loose ends” hit utilizing one of his best up and coming agents – a younger clone of Henry Brogan. This sets Brogan on the run from himself, accompanied by also-burned agent Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and his war-dog pilot buddy Baron (Benedict Wong).
Paramount Pictures will release Gemini Man this week on October 11th, which I’d encourage you to watch in RealD 3D if possible. In any case, here are three reasons to watch Will Smith beat the snot out of Will Smith.
1. Let’s Talk Tech
I wasn’t fully convinced by Ang Lee’s first attempt at 120fps, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, but the hyper-clear frame rate boasts far more positives this time around. Action sequences are kinetic, supercharged, and the realism of it all can be sensationally gobsmacking. Brogan’s tangle with “Junior” a.k.a. “Past Brogan” inside underground catacombs offers delicious visuals as pitch-blackness is broken up by ignited flares and thermal goggles. The same goes for motorcycle chases that cause a blurring effect as cameras try to keep up with full-speed intensity, adding this virtual reality pop to Gemini Man like you’re watching in an Oculus bubble. As armored Gemini squads light up liquor stores with spitfire miniguns, you realize what Lee’s self-professed “whole shebang” filmmaking (4K resolution, 120fps and 3D) is capable of achieving. Quite exciting given the prospects.
On the flipside, Smith’s younger form is always better served under midnight dimness. Once exposed to daylight, amplified by Lee’s 120fps, there’s this synthetic smoothness Junior’s appearance cannot wash away. Gemini Man’s worst sequences appear artificial, losing the grit or cinematography of, say, an explody Michael Bay epic. The smoothed rendering of glossy digital recording offers far fewer options in terms of hiding Hollywood magic, referring to squibs or pulled fight sequence punches. There’s a boundary in visual cinematic representation that Lee shatters, but I’m not quite sure that’s always a positive advancement. It’s almost as if, at times, Gemini Man looks too photorealistic. There’s a yet unfound balance between Lee’s pristine productions and current “muddier” cinematics that could benefit both mediums.
2. Let’s Talk Cast
Will Smith knows his way around buddy action thrillers, here working with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the doppelgänger version of himself. Winstead an agent caught up in Brogan’s conspiracy, Doppelgänger Smith his adversary. Winstead’s Danny is never a romantic angle nor lesser damsel, quickly proving she can grapple with meathead assassins sans backup. It’s something Henry Brogan respects, supports, and translates into a more serious level of Bad Boys banter. Oh, and you get an added Benedict Wong bonus! Whether they’re drinking Bloody Marys in a European spa or downing shots before bed (lots of drinking for mercenary targets), Smith’s interactions are always alert and on point when the script permits.
Lee’s take on revenge and bullet-capped justice continually drives familial themes to resonate emotion. Verris’ ruthless, militant “father” spends scene after scene screaming “I LOVE YOU!” at Junior in the goofiest, overwrought tone. Brogan mournfully repeats his own regret about pursuing his deadly craft instead of a quiet, loving family life. Gemini Man packs appropriate ammunition, but bogs itself down under sentimentality that never rises above a thick layer of oh-so-melty cheese. Some might cackle like mad at these often misplaced scripted dramatics – as two fellow journalists did behind me all screening – but it’ll certainly drive a wedge between others. Case and point, me.
3. Let’s Talk Action
Credit where credit is due, Smith can still tango with henchmen until they’re bloody and bruised. Gemini Man also leans into “gun-fu” as Brogan is a top marksman – some rad first-person reticle views included. Smith’s never better than when it’s fighting against his more ambitious half, as Junior parkours his way around the battlefield and can deflect grenades with a single shot. Winstead takes her licks and doles them out readily, but I’m remembering most a frantic rumble atop catacomb skulls crunching underneath another body slam. There’s even some G.I. Joe Snake Eyes-lookin’ superassassin who goes full bulletstorm hurricane, proving what 120fps can do at its best.
Only at a few moments do the speed and lucidity of frame rates displease in the action sequences, as motocross bikes zip through traffic. Cameras try to keep pace, focused on riders, but surrounding scenery blurs into an almost cell-shaded irregularity. With the brightness of Cartagena stucco rooftops and pastel decorations, it’s a bit distracting in chaotic moments. No longer can filmmakers direct attention where they want – lenses display all objects in frame with the same level of striking appearance. I’m not saying 120fps is a lost cause, because Ang Lee’s second experimentation is far more accomplished than Billy Lynn’s previous mission. Lee’s far closer to perfecting his formula, but that also includes scripting and other cinematic factors beyond visual representation. Next time, maybe all components will end in synchrony?
Gemini Man is in theaters this weekend. Get tickets now.