Director Ang Lee has always been known to push boundaries in his work. Whether it be the breathtaking “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Brokeback Mountain” or more recently with 2012’s “Life of Pi”. Lee has had one of the most diverse filmographies of any director working today. He tells unique, often challenging stories and is known for furthering technological advancement in cinema.
With “Gemini Man”, Lee has utilized the newest in filmmaking technology, shooting the film in 3D 120 FPS (frames per second) instead of the usual 24 FPS. However, most theaters are only able to project the film in 60 FPS or standard 24 FPS. The idea is to give the viewer a more immersive experience, making you feel like you are actually in the film and not just watching it. Lee’s most previous film, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” also used this style of filming, but only two screens in the country could project the film in its intended format, with the rest of the country only opting for basic 2D projection. The film, while not terrible, was met with lukewarm reviews and was a financial disaster, grossing only $30 million worldwide. Although Lee and DP Dion Beebe seem to have gotten more used to this format, the final results are mixed to say the least.
“Gemini Man” in standard 2D 24 FPS may be just a clunky spy thriller with great effects, but the film in 3D 60 FPS is an uneven tech demo that more often than not causes extreme distraction or questionable directing choices. The script, which has been floating around Hollywood for the better part of 20 years, has been rewritten with new writers and a seemingly different perspective with each draft. Given screenwriting credit here is Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”, “Shattered Glass”), David Benioff (co-creator of “Game of Thrones”) and Darren Lemke (“Shazam!”, “Goosebumps”). Looking at each writers specific credits should show just how different they all are and the script for “Gemini Man” reflects this. There is no voice in the writing and often feels like a hodgepodge of ideas.
What could have been a cool, Sci-Fi take on the Spy vs. Spy scenario with Will Smith being hunted down by his younger clone, is instead a meandering mess that takes too long to get going and ends without fully realizing its potential. Before exploring the filmmaking technology and visuals, the issues with “Gemini Man’ are apparent within the first few minutes. Smith’s Henry Brogan, a lifelong government assassin, is seen wanting out of his current life and aims to retire. In case you couldn’t follow along, the script will constantly remind you that Henry is an assassin wanting out of his current life and aims to retire, by repeating lines almost exactly how I just typed them. The laughable dialogue and horrid exposition that needlessly spells out the already thin plot to the audience is somehow more glaring than the distracting frame rate. Which is a shame because the cast, particularly Will Smith, is giving great performances; in Smith’s case, two great performances.
Both Smith’s Henry and the de-aged Junior, feel like real characters. Junior, a fully digital character, looks remarkably real, showing some of the best VFX work in modern cinema. Even in 60 FPS, which would otherwise give away the more digital details, the character looks photo-realistic. We can see the pores on his face, the individual strands of hair on his head and veins on his arms during his more intense scenes. A fight scene between both Smith characters is a revelation in CG advancement and filmmaking. It’s only Junior’s final scene where the digital creation is apparent. Perhaps its because the rest of the scenes with him look so good, but the the characters appearance in his last scene is comically fake-looking, as if the effects department ran out of money or another layer forgot to be rendered.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, one of the best actors under 40 working today (seriously, if you haven’t seen last year’s “All About Nina”, you need to fix that), is Danny, a DIA agent sent to spy on Henry who later tags along with him when they are both under attack. Winstead manages to pull through the insipid dialogue and gives yet another solid performance. Benedict Wong is also welcoming as Henry’s best friend, Baron. The only downside regarding performances is the scenery-chewing turn from Clive Owen. Chalk it up to poor direction or an actor who got too carried away in the role, but Owen’s performance is far too hammy to ever feel menacing.
The use of high frame rate is problematic to say the least. “Gemini Man” isn’t the action-filled adventure the marketing would have you believe. In fact, you have a wait a good 30-ish minutes to see any action. Much of “Gemini Man” involves characters sitting around talking and delivering flat exposition that’s supposed to double as slick Spy espionage. Early scenes of dialogue are impossible to follow along to because the frame rate is just so distracting. Nothing feels natural and simple scenes just come off jarring. The 60 FPS adds nothing these scenes other than severe distraction.
The only sequences that manage to impress in the high frame rate are the action sequences and any shot of water. The motorcycle chase halfway through the film is a stunning accomplishment and the 60 FPS truly shines in this scene. Lee utilizes several POV shots and close-ups that bring you into the action and allow the frame rate to flourish. If just for a few minutes, this sequence showcases what the technology is truly capable of. Others scenes, like the climactic battle involving a turret attached to a militarized vehicle, are fun to look at, but the motorcycle chase is the only scene that fully realizes the potential in the frame rate.
Ang Lee is a craftsman behind the camera, but with “Gemini Man”, it feels as if he was too caught up in furthering technology, than crafting a compelling story. Will Smith is giving two impeccable performances and the action sequences are thrilling, but if Lee wants to continue using this format, he should find a better script.