Gemini Man (2019)
Director: Ang Lee
Screenwriter: David Benioff, Billy Ray, Darren Lemke
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong
October is an unusual month to release an action movie, but 2018’s Venom showed that there’s money to be made. Paramount’s Gemini Man was released alongside the animated rendition of The Addams Family and Adam DeVine rom-com Jexi, but has thus far made $10million less than The Addams Family in North America and opened $35million under Joker in the Warner Bros movie’s second weekend. This was a tiny fraction of its $138million budget, and while audiences have liked it well enough (it currently holds a B+ Cinemascore), the film has been lambasted by critics. I can’t help but to wonder how the film would have been received if it was released in the summer, because this is exactly the kind of movie that would fit into blockbuster season.
Gemini Man follows Henry, an assassin played by Will Smith, who is being hunted by the US government under the direction of the head of a paramilitary company called Gemini. When Henry defeats the agents sent after him, his clone is dispatched to terminate him. What was shown in the trailer is basically what the audience gets – an action thriller that dances around the substance of its plot while remaining a source of entertainment.
As with most average action scripts, the plot undergoes the majority of its transitions through up-front exposition. Henry goes to Jack who tells him some information, Dani (Henry’s sidekick) gets the name of the person that made the decision to kill Henry from an assassin, but there aren’t any particularly clever ways the film divulges information. The closest it achieves in this regard is when Henry asks his clone where he was raised in order to know where to go for the final scene, but even that is conveyed through dialogue. What’s worse from a narrative perspective is that Henry, like many action heroes, is too invincible in and out of battle. His flaw as an assassin is that he’s too good of a person, but his flaw as a person is that he’s an assassin and can’t make solid human connections. It’s easy to accept that no one can match his skill, but he’s never caught by a stray bullet in an open space, and when he’s written into such dangerous situations this lack of realism truly detracts from the quality of the action.
The plot itself is fairly paint-by-numbers – a character visits a couple of different foreign countries before entering the final act where they seek to enact revenge on the bad guy – but it’s too similar in structure to Indiana Jones or Bourne to feel like something unique unto itself. The script has a habit of touching on themes like government corruption or the overreaching of corporations (especially privatized military), but it never ties the whole thing together into a positive or negative solution.
This simplicity is not without its benefits however, as Gemini Man’s focus upon its action and the tensions at its heart make for a movie that doesn’t get too bogged down with the morality of cloning. The concept is mentioned in passing, but the film doesn’t feature the same mire of ethical ideology that other movies featuring clones do, which is refreshing and makes for a more enjoyable albeit passive experience.
Ang Lee and his crew must also be given credit for managing to elevate the material given to them. The set design and cinematography are excellently constructed, especially regarding their use for building tension. There’s one particular chase scene through tight and short city streets that cause a distinct level of anxiety, which helps to make the protagonist someone to root for and care about. There’s also a fascinating use of lighting in close-combat scenes, with the costume work adding layers (literally and figuratively) to each of the characters, and helping to create some stunning visuals.
One of the biggest positives of Gemini Man is the performance of Will Smith, who is a joy to watch in both of his roles. His characters maintain a level of personality to accompany their serious assassin personas, and Smith is the key to keeping the movie’s levity from becoming too grating. There are moments where the old version of his character has to hit on Winstead’s Dani, and it feels out of place and awkward, but that’s more on the script than the acting. Winstead is actually good in her role as a proactive undercover agent, but Clive Owen doesn’t get much to work with at all – his antagonist is barely in the film and his character’s motivations for acting as he does feel tacked on to say the least.
If you see the film in its 3D high frame rate format, prepare for an off-putting hyperrealistic image. At times, characters can feel separated from the set like it was green screened (maybe it was), but it’s unclear how much of that is because of the 3D versus the frame rate. One slow motion sequence, shot at 1000fps on a Phantom Flex4K, looks stunning, and Will Smith’s full CGI character looks brilliant (especially when compared to Tarkin in Rogue One). The technical showing from this film is what ultimately makes the picture worth its run-time, and it will be interesting to see how other films go on to utilize these effects.
Overall, Gemini Man is a competent film that suffers from a mediocre script like the majority of films in the genre (and let’s be honest, what else could we have expected from a script that has been touched by David Benioff, the architect of ‘Game of Thrones’s’ ruin). John Wick and Fury Road are rare deviations from the average quality of a given action film, but there’s always a place for movies like Gemini Man. Unfortunately, that place is between May and August, and not the middle of Halloween season.