Professional assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) finally retires from the US intelligence services, only to find himself targeted for assassination. On the run with another targeted agent (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he soon finds himself hunted down by a mysterious killer who knows his techniques and matches his skills: his own clone.
Midway through Ang Lee’s latest film Gemini Man, there is an outstanding extended action sequence. The film has been shot in 3D, and with a significantly higher frame rate than the standard, and the sequence has been purposefully built to accommodate those features. The shots are dynamic and fluid, but they are also edited at a lower rate to make the 3D easier on the eye. The higher frame rate often inadvertently makes the film look like it was shot on video, however here at least it simply loans the scene a more immediate and visceral feel. It showcases the very best about Lee, one of contemporary cinema’s most versatile and interesting directors, whose career has jumped from genre to genre and regularly excels at all of them.
I am dwelling so much on this scene, and it really is exceptionally staged and executed, because it is the only part of Gemini Man that I would fully recommend. The remainder is awkward, poorly paced, and packed from head to foot with terrible stereotypes and outdated two-dimensional characters. Lee, a director whom I would previously hailed as one of cinema’s most reliable, has finally directed a bad film.
Gemini Man is a relatively famous project in Hollywood. It was bought up by Walt Disney in the 1990s and then spent more than two decades in development hell as team after team at Disney and then Paramount tried and failed to get the visual effects to work. In Ang Lee’s technology-savvy hands those effects are very well executed, but it seems that in all the years of development no one thought to properly update the screenplay. It feels precisely like the kind of high concept/lowest common denominator script that was all the rage back in the 90s, and while that lack of effort worked perfectly well back then it tends not to hold water now. It is also strangely leaden, dragging its feet when it should be sprinting across the screen. The action scenes, the middle sequence aside, are directed with a strange lack of urgency – the climax worst of all. The plot developments in-between feel static and under-rehearsed.
Will Smith, in the dual roles of Brogan and his younger clone, actually delivers a relatively strong performance. He manages to paper over his own scenes in the film fairly well, turning something that could easily be unwatchable into something that, while not necessarily good, is at least broadly watchable. The same cannot be said, sadly, for Clive Owen, who gives one of 2019’s most egregious ‘I did it for the pay cheque’ performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong play their supporting roles confidently, but both seem under-used.
Gemini Man is not a terrible film, but it is absolutely a deeply ordinary one. Films can suffer from not being well-enough developed, but I think it is also the case that they can be over-developed as well. Gemini Man seems to have been worked on for so long that no one making it remembers why it was such a priority in the first place. Despite the odd highlight, it feels 20 years out of date.