Ang Lee’s ambitious young-vs-old futuristic thriller is a misfire of cranked-up frame rates and muddled plotting.
Editor’s note: Only 14 venues in the U.S. will be able to show Gemini Man in its intended 120fps. Unfortunately, our critic does not live near one of those venues and thus the screening did not feature this frame rate.
As implied by the title, there are indeed two sides to Ang Lee’s latest directorial effort Gemini Man. And like the film itself, it is something of a battle between those sides, between the young and old. In a clash of form vs. content, Gemini’s cutting-edge technology runs aground of its retrograde plots. The effects are 2019, the story is pulled from the late 90s/ early 2000s.
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with a plot that calls to mind some of the action movies with a little something more on their minds from the end of the last century. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Gemini Man lacks something that made those earlier movies interesting, endearing, and memorable. It never reaches the so operatic as to be ridiculous hates of, say, a top-tier John Woo offering nor the bizarrely endearing characters of Shane Black script or Kathryn Bigelow actioner.
The David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke script (which likely got touched by a lot more hands given the long runway this film had to travel) either forgot to be about more than just incident or it gutted in the transition from page to moving picture. Gemini Man frequently feels oddly paced, glacial in moments and frenzied in others. As a result, moments that feel like they must have held more weight at some point are bounced past with little depth granted. Other times, scenes some to slow to a stop, becoming mired in something invisible. One cannot tell exactly how much time has passed but it feels like far too much.
This isn’t to say there isn’t effort on the screen. Clive Owen stands out as the manipulative Clay Verris, Junior’s (Will Smith in voice, entirely digital creation looking like a young Will Smith in body) handler. He overcomes dialogue that oscillates from generic to just plain bad to invest Clay with a gift for deception and a nasty bite. Smith himself nails some key moments as Henry Brogan, the older “original,” giving the aging warrior a deep ache of regret and self-recrimination. Junior, on the other hand, feels as smooth and flat as his young skin. As impressive a digital creation he is, he never compels even at his moments of highest emotion. Supporting players Benedict Wong and Mary Elizabeth Winstead do what they can — Wong, in particular, is very funny — but the movie can never seem to figure out what it needs them for.
As noted above, this review is not of the 120fps version, so it is difficult to comment on if the film overcomes the flat, soap opera look and feel that crippled Lee’s first flirtation with the frame rate, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. At standard projection, however, the film deals with some impressive moments of visual flair. The longest fight between Junior and Brogan, in particular, proves a stellar example of action movie thrills. Perhaps that’s why both the film’s trailers leaned some heavily on featuring it.
In a clash of form vs. content, Gemini’s cutting-edge technology runs aground of its retrograde plots.
At other times, however, Lee can’t seem to get out of his way. It feels, at points, as though the director recently saw 2012’s Les Miserables and fell utterly in love with the extreme close-ups that dominated that feature. Sometimes, it undermines the actors’ performances. At others, it just feels goofy and ill-advised.
Technology frequently draws us to the cinema. Seeing, for instance, an entirely digital man that never trips into the uncanny valley is an undeniable draw. However, once a film has people’s attention, it has to maintain it. Gemini Man offers the attention-getter, but not the attention-maintainer. In the end, it turns out all the technology in the world cannot overcome a weak script and thin characters.
Gemini Man launches a dirtbike at the Uncanny Valley in theaters October 11.