Gemini Man: New age visuals clash with old-school script

While watching any movie, viewers should never be conscious of the process that goes into its making. No matter what the film, an illusion of reality – whatever “reality” said production has adopted – should be established and maintained throughout.  Nary a thought should be given as to how an effect has been achieved or a stunt has been performed.  Once that happens, the illusion is broken, the narrative flow is disrupted and the viewer struggles to get reengaged in all that’s going on.

Ang Lee’s visually ambitious but narratively flawed Gemini Man suffers mightily to keep the viewer engaged. Blame the thin script and the incredible sights on display.  Languishing for years, movie-making technology has finally caught up to the script’s high-end concept that finds a veteran hitman forced to face off with a younger cloned version of himself.  To give you some idea of how long this idea has been knocking around, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford and Kevin Costner were all considered for this role during the younger days of their respective careers and for good or ill, the final much-revised script landed in Will Smith’s lap.

The veteran actor is more than capable of making a movie work through the sheer force of his personality, and that quality certainly helps keep us engaged during the more lax sections of the final mission of his character Henry Brogan, an assassin who’s had enough of government-sanctioned killing after offing over 70 targets.  Problem is, the folks at the Defense Intelligence Agency are a bit concerned about his hanging up his rifle and scope, as he knows a bit too much.  How to solve this problem, you might ask? Obviously, you send a younger, cloned version of Brogan (a digitally altered Smith) out to kill his older self.

There’s a simplicity to the story that runs counter to the cutting-edge technology on display. Clive Owen is obviously having great fun here as the nefarious Clay Varris, a visionary who has set out to create a genetically perfect set of soldiers, having raised the younger Brogan as his own to become the 23-year-old killer of today.  Not only is the film’s villain from central casting, but Brogan’s sidekick (Benedict Wong) and potential love interest (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are as well. 

As action films go, there’s nothing to write home about where the plot is concerned.  However, the visual effects are a marvel as the de-aging process used on Smith – soon to be on display in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman as well – is astounding.  For the most part, it seems natural and doesn’t call attention to itself.  Equally impressive are the scenes of Smith vs. Smith, as the digital choreography on display is impressive as well.  Add to this Lee’s continued experimentation with high frame rates – photographing his films at a rate of 60 frames per second as opposed to the traditional 24, producing an image so clear, it proves distracting at times – and you have a parade of visual wonders. This technique, coupled with modern 3-D effects, makes some truly spectacular, in-your-face moments.

Unfortunately, the script is so thin that my mind kept wandering, hoping that extensive “Making-of” features would be available on the movie’s upcoming home video release.  Lee and his digital effects crew spark the imagination as, for good or ill, the long-spoken-of promise of human replication through digital wizardry comes to fruition here.  Too bad Gemini Man’s script is as old school as its visual process is cutting edge, making for a two-steps-forward, one-step-back experience.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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