After 25 years of failed visual effects testing and bouncing from filmmaker to filmmaker, Gemini Man has finally made it to screens. That time in development purgatory would normally suggest a final product that’s merely a beleaguered mess, but under the purview of Ang Lee, of all people, this otherwise generic, sci fi-tinged thriller is something altogether more idiosyncratic, and personal, even while it still remains mostly a failure. Will Smith is Henry Brogan, the world’s best government assassin. At 51 years old, he’s developed a conscience (a phrase spat out mockingly by more than one of his colleagues). Wouldn’t you know it, though, his handlers would rather not let him retire — and send his clone to kill and replace him. Gemini Man has about as routine a potboiler plot as you’d expect, and the screenplay itself is fairly dreadful, especially in the case of its tin-eared, cliche-ridden dialogue. (“He knew every move before I made it! It was like seeing a ghost.”) The film may have taken a quarter-century to write, but it’s possible nobody actually read it.
It’s hard to imagine this being as convincing as it is even just three or four years ago.
And yet, Lee executes it all with characteristic patience, and an attention to psychology and character, making room for moments of emotional sincerity that the studio hacks that normally direct these things would probably jettison out of hand — particularly given that a lot of the film revolves around a fully CGI Will Smith. What could have been just ‘two sides of the same coin’ gives way to a thriller about not competing with your mirror image, and about putting the guns down. It’s refreshingly thoughtful. And as far as that CGI Will Smith goes, while the effect is never completely seamless — at its worst, in fact, it’s distractingly awful — it frequently comes astonishingly close to believable. A daytime chase through Bogota and a nighttime brawl in some catacombs show off both some incredible detail and as well the limitations of fully digital characters, but it’s hard to imagine this being as convincing as it is even just three or four years ago. It helps that Lee’s action scenes are some of the cleanest in years: This is not the blistering speed and economical cutting of the John Wick movies (to which it has already been unfavorably, and incorrectly, compared), but graceful, longer takes that find the camera moving around the action as it plays out. It’s not a flurry of beats, but measured, precise…almost stately — if one dares to use that term to describe a guy throwing motorcycles at his clone. Lee digitally captured his movie in 4K 3D, at 120 frames per second, which, depending on who you talk to, either heightens the experience or makes it look like the motion smoothing is on (it was screened for me in plain ol’ 2D 24fps, so no comment there). Either way, the goal seems to be to let the audience really have the opportunity to sink into this, for good or ill. In the hands of any other filmmaker, Gemini Man would more than likely be garbage; instead, for all its faults, it’s a fascinating curio that’s somehow amplified by the erratic tech showcase.