Gemini Man Review | Smooth as Butter

It seems that we are at a crossroads in the entertainment world. On one end of the scale, video games are becoming more realistic than ever, with games like The Last of Us 2 boasting graphics that are capable of conveying pain in the eyes of a character. On the other end of the scale, movies are pushing the envelope with what is possible with CGI, with The Lion King being the most recent example of a "live-action" movie that is composed entirely of photorealistic animation with only a single shot of non-computer-generated-imagery. Where movies seem to have a disadvantage though is when they try to merge the real and the realistic. When everything is photorealistic, there is no reality to compare it to, but the moment you put a photorealistic element next to an actual photo, the audience will start to pick it apart. Alita: Battle Angel tried to do this earlier in the year, albeit with the help of a stylized setting to cover the gap between the uncanny valley. Now, we have Ang Lee's Gemini Man, attempting to do the same with no such assistance.

Gemini Man stars Will Smith, Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong, Clive Owen and more in an action film about Henry (Will Smith), a hitman who is about to head into retirement after years of service under the US government. However, when his superiors realize that Henry is on a trail that could blow the cover of their secret project, they decide that the best thing to do is to kill him. In comes, Junior (Will Smith), a clone of Henry tasked to unknowingly kill the man he was made from. So begins Henry's globe-trotting adventure to escape from himself and find out the truth about Junior. This premise isn't new and, in fact, War (click here for our review), a Bollywood film that released last week, tells a similar story just with a different hook.

Let's start with the positives, this film has strong performances from nearly everyone involved. Especially Will Smith, who is tasked with playing both a 51-year-old man that's haunted by his past mistakes and a confused 23-year-old who is about to set down the same path. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also good in her supporting role, even if her character mainly serves the purpose of tagging along for the ride and occasionally pushing the plot forward. Most of the screen time is shared between Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the film is comfortable in letting them just share the screen without needing to force an awkward romance. Benedict Wong is also great as Baron, providing most of the intentional laughs in the movie. Clive Owen plays the villain of the film, Clay Verris. He has some understandable motives, but Verris often slips into the realm of cheesy, which doesn't fully match the manipulative head of the Gemini that he is. That isn't to say his performance is bad because he, along with the rest of the cast, handle the material they were given well.

Then there's the action. While I can't really comment on the 120 HFR shooting of the film, I can say that the film has some great action. There are some long takes in Gemini Man, that both clearly capture the action while also establishing geography, that makes one wonder why shaky cam (that isn't thematically necessary) still exists. There are a few hand-to-hand combat scenes that take place in such low light environments that it's hard at times to see what exactly is happening. However, the action is still clear enough to appreciate the choreography and execution. Gemini Man also utilizes a few POV shots, which, as much as they do serve their purpose in the film, I wouldn't really make a note to mention if they didn't look so much like a cutscene from Call of Duty.

Touching back on that 120 fps point again, while the novelty of it is sound, the reality is that most theaters (including the one that I went to for my advance screening) aren't capable of projecting a film in its 120 HFR specifications. And I don't know if it's because of this shooting format that I noticed this, but the action in Gemini Man feels butter smooth. For the most part that's a compliment, but there are times where it feels if it's even possible, too smooth. In some of the long sweeping shots, the characters move so fast and fluid that it feels like they're just skating around.

Where Gemini Man really falls short is in its writing. A story of a weathered hitman seeking retirement because he can't look at himself in the mirror due to guilt opens the door for some fascinating conversations. Yet, Gemini Man simply brushes past these topics to focus on showcasing its tech instead. And while I do commend the movie for not overstaying its welcome. It also doesn't stay long enough to be wholly compelling. In my opinion, there are two things that I found to be culprits for this. The first is the films marketing and writing not being in sync. On one hand, every poster for the movie showcases the fact that there are two Will Smiths, and every trailer seems to confirm that it is his clone. On the other hand, the movie holds the fact that there is a clone to utmost secrecy, with several people having a conversation about the "Gemini project" without saying what exactly it is. Then when the reveal does happen, the characters harp on it as if it's a very big revelation. On that note, Gemini Man doesn't really offer too many surprises with its story, especially if you've seen the trailers. Although that didn't seem to matter to the audience at my screening who gasped at a reveal in the last act that felt pretty straightforward.

The second culprit is the film's chronology. In any big-budget action movie, you can expect there to be a lot of different locations spanning the world. Gemini Man doesn't disappoint there. And while I won't give anything specific away, the order of its locations seem to downscale for the climax. This may sound weird without context, but the film jumps from cool location to cool location for most of the run time and then for the climax drops you into a place that isn't quite as interesting.

With that said, this movie isn't being pushed to audiences as a Shakespearean tale of a hitman's retirement. The thing that most people will hear or have heard about the film has to do with its tech. Ang Lee's ambition when it comes to using technology to tell stories is not newly kindled. In Life of Pie, groundbreaking VFX was used to bring the many animals and environments of the film to life. In Gemini Man, just as advanced tech is used to bring 23-year-old Junior to life. Before you think that this is just de-aging as we have seen in a few of the Marvel films before, this is different. They didn't just remove wrinkles from Will Smith's face. They used his motion capture to create an original and completely digital character. In the context of this movie, there are times where the CG character looks undeniably real. Everything, from Junior's pores to his eyebrow's, is so meticulously crafted that it's easy to forget that he doesn't really exist. At the same time, there are other scenes where the animation goes to the uncanny valley and one scene in particular, at the end of the film, throws all sense of believability out the window. It's clear that while the tech for creating CGI characters in live-action environments is better than ever, it'll take a few more years before it starts to be truly flawless.

In the end, Gemini Man may not have Oscar-caliber writing, but it's backed with compelling performances and engaging action sequences that make it a fun way to spend two hours. And if you wanted to see a digitally recreated Will Smith on the big screen this year that isn't blue, then Gemini Man is your excuse to go to the theaters.

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