What's better than a movie starring Will Smith? A movie starring two Will Smiths. At least, that's what director Ang Lee is hoping audiences will think with his latest film, Gemini Man. The new thriller pits Will Smith against a completely CGI recreation of his younger self in a movie that features some truly impressive action scenes. Unfortunately, there isn't much going on in Gemini Man beyond that.
Let's get this out of the way first: Gemini Man is a technological marvel. Director Ang Lee and his team managed to construct a completely digital version of a young Will Smith to play against the older one, and the results are stunning, for the most part. Watching one of the biggest movie stars on the planet fight against himself in some awe-inspiring action sequences is a sight to behold.
The story fits well into the world of '90s action movies, as retired assassin Henry Brogan (Smith) finds himself in the middle of a government conspiracy. Now, tracked by someone that knows every move he's going to make before he does it, Brogan and the mysterious killer fight each other with fists, guns, and motorcycles around the world before it's revealed the man in pursuit is, of course, a younger Brogan. This particular government conspiracy is about cloning and a genetically modified duplicate of the aging assassin, referred to as Junior, who has been trained to kill him.
It's the kind of story that, if done correctly, could be very interesting to watch. Unfortunately, there's no depth to any of the characters. The most significant insight into Brogan the audience will get is that he's scared of drowning and a quick aside where the assassin hints that he's a 51-year-old virgin--and that's more than you'll learn about any of the other characters.
That's because Gemini Man isn't concerned with story. Instead, for Lee, it's all about the technology involved in making the film. Beyond the creation of the all-digital clone, the film was shot at a high frame rate with 3D viewing in mind. The screening I attended was in 120 frames per second, compared to the typical 24 FPS. The image was crisp, fast-moving, and in many instances, beautiful to look at. The visuals were so sharp that at one point goosebumps were visible on the back of a character's neck.
However, there's a drawback to this style of filmmaking. There are multiple times throughout the movie where the camera got uncomfortably close to whatever it was filming, be it a character monologuing or an intense action sequence. In those moments, it's easy to get taken out of what's happening on-screen because it just doesn't look natural. Instead, you get that uncanny effect seen on newer TVs with "motion smoothing" turned on.
It's also clear that video games inspired Lee in creating Gemini Man. There are numerous driving and action sequences that play out from a first-person perspective, while an entire scene of an army of mercenaries training feels as if it's pulled from a Call of Duty game. It's an interesting approach, and these are moments where the high frame rate works exceptionally well within the movie. After all, modern video games typically have a high FPS rate than films. If only the rest of the film would fit as naturally into what Lee was trying to accomplish.
At the end of the day, though, it's the story and forgettable characters that keep Gemini Man from being something special. Supporting cast like Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong are mildly entertaining as Brogan's sidekicks. But there's no character development for either of them, just as there's very little insight into what makes Clive Owen's villainous Clay Varris tick.
Lee knew what he was making with Gemini Man, and it shows. It's a movie-length technology sizzle reel. This is a film meant to show audiences just how far the medium has come. From filming at 120 FPS in 4K, to digitally building a clone of the movie's star to make them fight in a series of over-the-top action sequences, there's a lot to marvel at in Gemini Man. But the visuals can also border on uncanny, and Gemini Man just doesn't have the story to back that action up.