For a work of a director renowned for strong dramatic stories (Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi, to name a few)—even his blockbuster tenure leans more towards dramatic height than pure spectacles (as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hulk)—it is difficult to fathom the decision why he accepted the kind of story like Gemini Man. Normally, a pseudo-complex action-thriller which leans more on spectacles might not become his main preference. For me, the only plausible scenario is Ang Lee needs leverage for his pursuit of technological advancement in filmmaking and, for that, he’s willing to cost his integrity.
The technological breakthrough that Lee keeps pursuing is the HFR, in which he shoots the entire movie with 120 frames per second (an ambitious technique he’s developed for the first time in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). When projected correctly, Lee expects to present an immersive and realistic experience with his HFR movie. The problem is: the cinema industry hasn’t come prepared for that, as most movie theatres are not equipped with the appropriate projectors. The use of the HFR technique, however, has revolutionized Lee’s filmmaking process for Gemini Man, in which he crafts a series of hyper-accelerated action spectacles specifically for the format. The result is a showy, gonzo actioner that demands your attention for the action sequences only.
As the title suggests, Gemini Man presents a story of a former NSA agent, Henry Brogan (Will Smith), against his gemini—a younger, grittier version of him (also portrayed by Smith). Aided by another agent, Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and a former colleague, Baron (Benedict Wong), Henry embarks on a globe-trotting journey to find out the puppet master who wants him dead. Smith injects a Face/Off energy to play the double roles as a mature yet anxious 51 y.o. man and, at the same time, a 20-something and more clinical version of him. Every confrontation between the two Smiths is well-choreographed and well-shot. At some moments, Lee has to use CGI for direct confrontations between them. While the CGI blends in perfectly in a darker environment, it looks a little awkward on broad daylight.
For the second time in 2019, Will Smith proves that he’s worth the money after ‘saving’ two respective movies (Aladdin and this one) from being a total mess. His double portrayals are not special, but they give the characters a certain edge. Gemini Man‘s narrative, albeit attempting to be complex (with double-crosses and pseudo-scientific elements), is not profound at all. The script—written by Darren Lemke (Lost, Goosebumps), David Benioff (The Kite Runner, Game of Thrones), and Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, Secret in Their Eyes)—carries no depth, which usually becomes an aspect where Ang Lee excels. When the HFR projection fails, the only thing to resort to will be the story; but, Gemini Man does not provide a compelling one, unfortunately.
For whatever mess in the script, it does not undermine Ang Lee’s reputation as one of the finest filmmakers in this era. His flair for poetic visual makes way to make Gemini Man visually enjoyable. His HFR push that revolutionizes his camera-work produces eye-pleasing action sequences at a fast pace. Some of the action sequences are top-notch, even when some does not offer anything new. At least, Ang Lee’s hyper-accelerated action is showy and blatant as it highlights the filmmaker’s constant pursuit of craftsmanship breakthrough. Sadly enough, a tactful plot isn’t for it.