Originally conceived in 1997, the concept for Gemini Man has been languishing in development hell for the better part of 20 years, with a who’s who of top-tier (at the time, at least) Hollywood leading men being attached at one point or another; Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sean Connery all earning involvement points.
Given how long it’s finally taken for Darren Lemke’s script to get off the ground – his original treatment given a rewrite by David Benioff (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, the forthcoming Terminator: Dark Fate) – the 2019 Gemini Man deserves, at the very least, a celebratory response just for coming to fruition. The ultimate result is a little more mixed, and probably not worth the 20-year hardship, but the technology adhered to by visionary director Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain) certainly caters to the story’s ambitious idea.
And where there’s a Will (Smith), there’s a way. Arguably still one of the industry’s true movie-star drawcards, Will Smith leads the charge as Henry Brogan, a government assassin on the verge of retirement. Starting to feel remorse over the life of violence he has dedicated himself to, he’s finding it hard to even face his own reflection – an ironic emotional note that will play heavily once the film introduces its outlandish hook – and walking away from an organisation would all be well and good if, you know, it wasn’t the type of organisation in the business of assassinations, and the top-level employees (namely a stoic, villainous Clive Owen) weren’t under the impression that Brogan knows more than he leads on.
The aging-assassin-is-targeted-for-extermination-by-the-very-agency-he’s-dedicated-his-life-to is not a new story trope by any means, and because Gemini Man has laid dormant for as long as it has you can understand why this story remains so familiar, but originality in any form is a rarity in the Hollywood machine as of late, and it’s through Lee’s incredible visual eye that the film is slapped with a fresh coat of paint which assists it in feeling momentarily fresh.
Shooting in 3D and 120 frames per second, which for the technologically uninitiated is about 6 times the regular rate – meaning there’s a sense of hyper-realism to the visuals, allowing the audience to be fully immersed in the locations and the action taking place – Gemini Man is oft-stunning in its visual depictions and, alarmingly, the shaky cam movements that are occasionally adopted throughout feel much smoother and less jarring than what we have become accustomed to; it should be noted that the version of the film I am reviewing is the 3D print, which I suspect is the best format for Lee’s vision.
As Owen weaves in and out of the picture, Benedict Wong provides ample comic support as one of Brogan’s former colleagues, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead sits idly by as the script isn’t sure if she’s an action ally or a love interest, Gemini Man‘s main focus is on Mr. (and Mr.) Smith when it comes to light that the person sent to exterminate Brogan is his clone. Younger and in-sync with his older counterpart’s movements, Junior (as he is so appropriately dubbed) is the ultimate sparring partner, and is initially unaware of just who Brogan truly is.
Whilst Gemini Man will sell itself on the 3D technology and the higher frame rate, it’s the Smith v Smith hook that is ultimately the draw, and for the most part it’s an effective enticement. Though he doesn’t always look real – one particular scene it’s almost offensively off-putting how much of a CGI-creation Junior is – the film’s rendering of the young Smith is impressive regardless. When it’s a fleeting glance or an energetically-paced fight scene (a motorcycle-set battle between Brogan and Junior is a marvel), there’s a genuine feeling that what we are witnessing is reality, and the additive of Smith’s performance being more subdued and unsure of himself allows us to witness the type of humility the actor has rarely been afforded.
When you take away the gimmicks Gemini Man is hyping up, Lee’s actioner is a basic staple of the genre, though ultimately there’s nothing inherently wrong with familiarity when what’s playing out on screen is as harmless, well-intentioned, and as fun as what this piece proves to be.
Gemini Man (M) is screening in Australian theatres from October 10th 2019.