Post updated October 14th, 2019 at 03:31 pm
Ang Lee is one of those directors who prides himself on pushing the boundaries of cinematic technology. He loves to experiment. His recent obsession? 3D + High Frame Rate (HFR). It didn’t quite work in his previous film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The technology traded off emotional connect for sexy visuals in a film that required emotional depth more than anything else. It works better — at least to a certain extent — in a film like Gemini Man, a star vehicle action flick with a simple premise: A hitman discovers that he’s being targeted by a younger clone of himself. It’s Will Smith vs Will Smith.
The 3D in Gemini Man is crisper and less headache-inducing than films that are shot with regular cameras and converted to 3D in post-production. Yes, I know, as far as no shit Sherlock statements go, we might have a winner. The High Frame Rate that makes everything look unnaturally realistic doesn’t take you out of the film, rather, they make the action sequences cooler and more videogame-esque. Instead of a distraction, it feels like a unique stylistic choice. There’s one action block, in particular, that involves a shootout while jumping on and off rooftops, that’s particularly awesome. So is the wonderfully choreographed motorcycle chase.
But those are just a couple of the action scenes worth noting and even they aren’t set pieces to be marvelled at. So I have to ask, what even is the point of watching this film in 3D? And what did HFR really accomplish here? While I’ve never been a supporter of the 3D gimmick — yes, I’m not convinced that it’s anything more than a gimmick — I at least understood its purpose in a film like Avatar. There, James Cameron conceptualised an immersive world that is rich in detail and colour. The film had an epic scope and stunning sweep. There are bombastic action blocks with huge dragon-like beasts that cut through the air like a bullet and are ridden by big blue warriors.
The world of Gemini Man looks and feels exactly like ours. So is the point of 3D + HFR for us to admire the racy detail of the girl in a bikini? Or is it supposed to make us feel like we’re sitting beside a character while he’s watching a game of soccer on his telly? Are we supposed to be impressed that we can make out the outline of a bee that’s buzzing around Will Smith’s head? Yeah, there are action sequences but Gemini Man isn’t the kind of film that continuously bleeds delicious fight scenes and gun battles from start to finish the same way John Wick does.
Also, what good is 3D or HFR or any hot piece of technology they come up with next when the screenplay is not nearly as hot? Forget hot, the screenplay of Gemini Man penned by David Benioff (Game of Thrones), Billy Ray and Darren Lemke is room temperature at best. The film opens with Henry Brogan (Will Smith) on top of a cliff, preparing to take a shot at a passenger riding an oncoming train that’s two kilometres away. Henry who handles guns as precisely as Smith’s character in Suicide Squad, Deadshot, successfully takes out his target. Later, through banal lines of dialogue from his old friend, he discovers that his superiors have been using him to kill innocent people.
There’s a government conspiracy or something. Henry superiors try to kill him after he discovers what they’re up to, but their attempts fail. So they deploy a secret weapon… a guy who looks like him and fights like him only quicker and with less fear. His name is Junior (also played by Will Smith, this time de-aged). Instead of making an all-out action-heavy ridiculous and incredibly fun flick, Ang Lee treats the material he’s working with seriously as if making a Bourne film. But the screenplay is thinner than a High Fashion model and nothing that unfolds is shocking nor intriguing — everything is fed to us through expository words with the emotional weight of a hairpin.
In what should’ve been the biggest moment of the film, the answer to “who is Junior exactly?” is given to us casually in a throwaway line which Henry Brogan responds to with less curiosity, confusion and anger in his intonation and body language than you would if you had just discovered your favourite restaurant was closed for the day. Junior is a clone.
Later we’re introduced to a one-dimensional villain played by Clive Owen. He’s the mastermind behind all of it. He created Junior using Henry’s DNA because Henry has aged and lost his edge. With clones, he can keep doing whatever it is that villains do in these type of movies. He tells Junior he loves him like his own flesh and blood and that Henry is the REAL bad guy. But these words are as empty as a politician’s promise because we don’t actually get a sense of their relationship or see them having regular interactions as father and son. So it means very little when Junior very predictably switches side. It doesn’t help that Owen and almost every cast member including Will Smith are on autopilot. At least, Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings some gusto to her sidekick character.
Gemini Man doesn’t really offer much beyond a couple of cool action scenes. If you’ve never seen an action star face-off and team up with himself, then the concept itself might be worth the ticket price. But for those of us who regularly watch Tamil films, it’s just another Tuesday.