GEMINI MAN

When a bunch of wide release films come out each week, I choose either the most popular one that weekend, or one that I think won’t totally irritate, or bore me. Sometimes I’ll completely write off a film until the last minute, when there’s suddenly something that suddenly catches my eye. I might think the film will be an incredible waste of time, but if there’s a certain director, writer, actor, or a certain technology being employed, I’m more than willing to take a chance. 

Gemini Man follows Henry Brogan (Will Smith), a top agent at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) who has just entered retirement. Retirement doesn’t want anything to do with him, though, as when Henry gets some secret information from an old colleague, the DIA is on the hunt to take him down. Who do they send to take him down? Why, a clone of Brogan, named Jackson (Will Smith), of course! As Henry realizes that a clone has been created from him, Jackson finally realizes he may have been cloned from Henry for nefarious intentions. Knowing that a clone who wants to kill him exists out there, Henry tries to turn Jackson to his side an take down the evil “Gemini Program”. 

Literally the only reason I chose to see Gemini Man was because it was shot in 3D and 120 frames per second (fps). I was honestly shocked that there were a few theaters near me playing it, as many theaters aren’t equipped with the right projectors to show movies in such high frame rates. What am I even talking about with frame rate, anyway? Well, for all layman out there, 99.9% of films have been shot and projected in 24 fps for almost 100 years, and those 24 frames played in sequence over a second gives that illusion of movement. It wasn’t until Peter Jackson’s 2012-2014’s Hobbit trilogy where different frame rates would be experimented with, in this case being in 48 fps. That doubles the speed of the visuals, adding extra smoothness, enhancing more detail, and eliminating motion blur.  

The Hobbit films were only double the speed of a standard movie, though. With Gemini Man being in 120 fps, we have a movie that’s 5x the speed of a regular film. That sounded absolutely insane to me and I knew I shouldn’t pass up this experience. I love seeing filmmaking technology be experimented with and evolve, even if it doesn’t always work. Not every experiment yields positive results, but experimenting is exactly how we move forward. The high frame rate was distracting in The Hobbit films, and being 4x the speed of that, it’s even more noticeable and off putting here. Similar to that awful motion smoothing nonsense on TV’s, everything just looks way too smooth and clean, which doesn’t really lend itself well if your special effects are mediocre. During every action scene when people were running and jumping around, the physics just felt off and made it look incredibly fake. There’s a lengthy motorcycle chase where Will Smith is being chased by himself and there’s no motion blur to be found. They’re speeding through neighborhoods and business districts, with every person and building being as clear as day, which was pretty cool. Unfortunately, it also enhances that artificiality that’s there, such as composited backgrounds and completely CG effects. High frame rate movies haven’t completely worked for me yet, but I can see the benefit during action scenes, where it makes it more immersive. A completely animated film would be pretty awesome in a high frame rate. I guess we’ll see when Avatar 2 comes out, which is rumored to be higher than the standard.

Enough about all of that technology. How’s the actual movie? Well, not very good. Gemini Man was originally written 20 years ago, never fully getting off the ground because the technology to duplicate the lead actor wasn’t really there. Well, as films like Logan have showed us with Wolverine versus his evil self, the technology is clearly there, but the script was still stuck in the 90’s. There’s just something that felt so antiquated about everything here. The total lack of characterization. The contrived plotting to just get from one action scene to the next. A confusing world that feels futuristic at times, but also way too grounded for it to feel like the future. An absolutely laughable twist ending with barely any setup. Nothing here goes beyond the simple concept of “person fighting himself”. The story, I think, is all about Will Smith retiring and then being roped back into the game, but the eventual resolution made it feel like the filmmakers were trying to tell a different story. Not only did it not make a whole lot of sense due to lack of development, but there’s no emotional satisfaction because I was confused, and also just waiting for the movie to end. Will Smith is at least charming and has good chemistry with his co-stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong, even if their characters were complete flatlines. Smith as the young Brogan didn’t sell it for me, though. It felt more like Smith trying to imitate a young person rather than channel his younger performances. We all know what young Will Smith is like and when he’s not like that, it’s very distracting. 

Ang Lee has shown before that he’s a clearly talented director and definitely knows how to stage and block action that could have been generic and makes it exciting. Despite the noticeably poor effects and distracting high frame rate, the action scenes are very exciting, sometimes even creative. The highlight is definitely the shootout and subsequent motorcycle chase between the two Brogan’s, but some of the other action scenes were fun. One of them is absolutely terrible, unfortunately, with the two Brogan’s fist fighting in a catacomb. It’s so poorly lit and when you literally have the same two people fighting each other, I had no idea what was going on. Of course, great action movies are great because of their stories and direction, but this film was so monotonous and tedious, that I was begging for an action scene to come in and prevent my impending snooze cruise. Lee certainly doesn’t try to make these bland dialogue scenes visually interesting, with nothing but medium, shot-reverse-shot over and over. It’s almost sleep inducing from a screenwriting and directing standpoint. A dangerous tag team, if I’ve ever seen one. 

I was originally going to see some atrocious looking comedy called Jexi this past weekend, but decided on Gemini Man simply for the technology. I think it was a risk worth taking. The movie is not good at all, but from a technical standpoint, it was very intriguing to experience. I don’t see high frame rate films working for everything, nor do I see it taking off as a popular format, but I can see the benefits. Just give me that classic 24 fps, though. It’s worked for almost a century and will continue to work for centuries to come. 

4/10

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