Ang Lee has been pushing the boundaries of cinema with his bold films for decades now. The Taiwanese-born director broke the boundaries with the most successful foreign-language film of all time Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), was groundbreaking in his homosexual drama Brokeback Mountain (2005), and later marveled us all with the visual renderings of The Life of Pi (2012). Lee has been furthering his exploration of the technological limits in cinema since Pi, although his recent experiments in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) and Gemini Man (2019) have been wrapped around stale films.
Gemini Man is the latest Will Smith starrer. The film follows veteran hit man Henry Brogan (Smith), who when thinking of retiring is targeted by his government to tie up possible loose ends. The twist in this story is that Brogan is chased his younger clone.
While seeming very by-the-numbers on paper (and that is certainly how it has been marketed) Gemini Man is able to grasp some semblance of difference and originality with the visual style that Lee lends it. There are refreshing new tracking shots of action scenes and chases, which result in further immersion; and the use of color is still a strength of Lee’s – as evidenced by scenes in Cartagena, Colombia. However, the CGI de-aging of Smith (for which this film was singled out by its marketing team and viewers alike) is not as convincing. The younger Smith doesn’t hold the same realism as an actor and seems at points like the rendering from a video game instead. For any scenes involving the younger Smith, it was distracting and the incompleteness would draw you out of the narrative world – not that it was engaging to begin with.
The screenplay was co-written by one of the Game of Thrones (2011-2019) showrunners, David Benioff. However, you would be forgiven for thinking this was generated out of a computer algorithm instead. The characters, dialogue, and story seem as cookie-cutter for its genre as any Will Smith blockbuster of the past decade. That’s not to say that early 2000s Smith movies weren’t enjoyable, they certainly made use of his charm and humor. However, Gemini Man casts Smith twice in roles that are so somber, it doesn’t permit Smith to bring out the versatility that makes him such a likeable (and bankable) movie star. Even the endearing performers Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong aren’t made full use of in supporting roles, instead relegated to clichéd tropes of: comic relief and female token. Lee brings about some pause and meditation at certain points of the narrative, but they are simple flashes that don’t jolt any life into the film.
Gemini Man is a bold new experiment from Lee, and while the technology may not fully be up to par for the vision of the director, the greater problems of the film’s unimaginative script and idle use of its cast are the real culprits behind this drab flick.