The term “high concept” normally refers to movies with memorable plot hooks specifically married to casting or directing decisions. Gemini Man is thus high concept in the most literal way. Ang Lee, a respected director of nuanced dramatic fare and a dedicated booster of cutting edge cinematic technology, helms a fairly standard spy action film whose hook is Will Smith playing two versions of his usual laid-back screen persona at two different ages. More significantly, the movie was shot in hyper-realistic 120-frames-per-second 3D format, giving it an unusual look that has already divided audiences. Some have found the format intriguing in the way it boosts the credibility of a genre that is incredible by definition, while others find it unwatchable.
I fell into the latter camp, owing mainly to dialogue and story development that was even worse than what you normally find in pumped-up spy thrillers. For sure, the rendering of the younger clone version of Will Smith, who plays a newly retired government hit man, is amazingly realistic. There are none of the usual motion or portraiture seams you get with the de-aging CGI or motion capture technology. The scenes that Smith plays against himself don’t look any different quality-wise than similar scenes where Smith would be reacting to a real actor, including the fights, of which there are many. But what all these considerations add up to is a viewing experience that is shot through with unavoidable distractions.
In a sense, that’s a blessing in disguise since the script is awful. Smith’s Henry Brogan comes to realize he’s losing his edge when instead of putting a bullet into the head of a passenger on a high speed train from the vantage point of a distant hill he hits the target’s neck, so he retires to his boat only to discover he’s still being surveilled by his old employers, specifically techno villain Clay Verris (Clive Owen), who is in charge of something called the Gemini project. When things get hairy and Henry attempts to shake Verris’s all-seeing eye with the agent (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) initially assigned to tail him, Verris decides Henry has to go and sicks a younger, cloned version of the hit man on him. Some interesting and nominally exciting action sequences ensue, but David Benioff’s story (the script is also credited to two other co-writers) adds some gratuitous daddy issues and other totally bonkers themes that turn the movie into a tangle of conflicting narrative vectors. That it’s all conceived in a visual atmosphere that looks, as one critic put it, like a cross between a telenovela and a video game, heightens the ludicrousness of the basic concept and, especially, the dialogue, which is almost mind-numbing in its obviousness. Gemini Man is only tolerable as an experiment, and a failed one at that.
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Gemini Man home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2019 Paramount Pictures