Hailed as the next frontier in filmmaking, Will Smith’s new movie wants to dazzle you with tech wizardry. But it’s far from impressive.
If you believed the marketing hype, Gemini Man is a Will Smith action thriller with groundbreaking technology.
Which is true, to an extent. It does feature Will Smith, it is an action thriller and the movie certainly uses some newfangled tech.
But does that add to up a great movie? Hell, no.
Gemini Man is a muddled, shallow and underwhelming movie. It thought it could dazzle us with the promise of two Will Smith performances, but the attempt to distract only highlights how middling the script is, despite the movie’s overall ambitions.
Smith plays an ageing government assassin named Henry Brogan. He’s the best in the biz, able to shoot a target sitting on a bullet train while he’s a kilometre away.
But something wasn’t right with his last job and now Henry’s the target. The bad guys, including military contractor Clay (Clive Owen), sends an assassin after Henry.
This assassin, Junior, knows Henry intimately (too intimately) because, well, he is Henry — and we’re not giving anything away because the reveal is in the trailer. Junior is Henry’s clone, but half his age. So he has more physical dexterity but not the wisdom of experience.
Not that Gemini Man delves into the whole nature-versus-nurture debate, apart from some nonsense about “instinct” or dialogue along the lines of “he knows what I’m going to do before I do!”.
Gemini Man wastes this rich storytelling vein by largely ignoring the ethical, emotional and psychological dilemma of being a clone or being cloned — it’s actually deeply frustrating how uninterested the movie is on the whole subject.
(Side note, if you are interested in watching a smart, thrilling and entertaining series that happens to deal with clones, check out TV show Orphan Black.)
At its core Gemini Man has a really basic story and when the narrative is that simple, the script has got to really hit the mark — and Gemini Man does not.
The movie had a torturous path to the screen, spending more than 20 years in development, so perhaps it’s not surprising the screenplay is so limp and ineffective. Among the credited screenwriters is David Benioff, one of two Game of Thrones writers, who is maybe not that deft with a pen when he doesn’t have George RR Martin’s books to work from.
Gemini Man has been sold as the next frontier in filmmaking and obviously it hoped the tech wizardry would make up for what it lacked elsewhere. And it’s certainly why Ang Lee signed on to direct.
Gemini Man was filmed at a high frame rate — 120 frames per second compared to the usual 24. In Australia, cinemas can screen it at 60 frames per second. The result is that it’s supposed to look hyper-realistic and ultra-high definition.
The main benefit of a high frame rate is that it negates the motion blurring you get in 3D, but how many of you are flocking to a 3D movie anyway? Not many. In 2010, thanks to Avatar, 3D sessions made up 23 per cent of box office revenue. Last year, it was 1 per cent.
Overwhelmingly, 3D takes the audience out of the story to yell, “hey, look at me, it’s knives flying at your face!”. And cinemagoers have banded together and responded with a resounding “thanks, no thanks”.
So while Gemini Man does take 3D to another level thanks to its high frame rate — at the very least, how it renders water is very impressive — no amount of technology can hide a feeble story.
If anything, the sharp picture highlights how fake the CGI version of young Will Smith is. Junior is a purely digital concoction, created from Smith’s motion-capture performance and loads and loads of pixels.
But as much as it almost passes for Smith circa Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it never feels like you’re not watching a video game version of Smith. Maybe in 2D it wouldn’t be as obvious.
The technology also has the effect of making fight scenes appear weightless, as if the fisticuffs were happening inside a Gravitron. After 120 years of watching movies at 24 frames per second, the human eye is just not yet accustomed to the so-called hyper-realism.
The performances range from OK (Smith and Benedict Wong) to serviceable (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to hammy (Clive Owen, making you wonder if he was ever a good actor) and the scenes shot in Budapest will absolutely put that city on your travel bucket list.
For a movie so reliant on its 3D pizzazz, Gemini Man is two-dimensional in every other way.
Gemini Man is in cinemas from Thursday, October 10