I would rather watch a movie that I ended up hating than watch a movie and left the theater feeling nothing. I did not expect to feel nothing after seeing ‘Gemini Man,’ the latest film from visionary director Ang Lee and superstar Will Smith. I haven’t been a fan of Will Smith’s work for a long while now but this is a film that’s right under his wheelhouse. But his uninspired performance only made the weak and the tedious screenplay by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke sound even worse than it already does. And, yes, that’s David Benioff of ‘Game of Thrones'.
Since the film is about Henry Brogan, a super-assassin who is set to retire, but ends up on the run when he is chased by his own younger clone. If Will Smith’s performance was uninspiring as the older Henry Brogan, the digitally enhanced de-aged version of Will Smith as the younger clone, called “Junior”, is on the opposite end of the spectrum and is struggling with over-emoting through the digital enhancements that is making him younger.
One reviewer had remarked that it looked like a video game rather than a CGI-created character like you’d see in ‘Star Wars.’ Whether you find the de-aging element believable or not, your attention is spent more towards the technology involved than you do on the story that has fallen flat by the time the first big action sequence comes at the forty-minute mark.
And I know because I was bored enough to check my phone when it happened.
Much is being said about director Ang Lee’s decision to shoot at 120 frames per second, which has some interesting effect at the high-speed motorcycle chase that happens at the aforementioned forty-minute mark, but I’m not even sure if the theaters here can show it at that speed. I might have just seen it at the 4k version, and honestly, not even the visuals could distract me from how sloppy the film’s writing and storytelling is.
There is very little nuance or texture to Will Smith’s Henry Brogan. He’s a super assassin, capable of killing a man in a moving bullet train with a sniper from a very long distance, but he has a heart of gold. The film talks about his growing conscience and his need to retire because he almost killed an innocent young girl. He talks about his insomnia and his bad dreams but they only really show him having a nightmare once.
There is no sense of history to Henry Brogan. He talks a lot about his past but we never really see it displayed except through dialogue. Will Smith is at his least charming here, delivering lines without meaning any of it. His eyes are dead and this is new territory because even in films as bad as ‘Bright’ or ‘After Earth’, Smith can always evoke some level of charm.
And even more surprising is Ang Lee’s preoccupation with the technology involved in ‘Gemini Man.’ He seems more interested in de-aging Will Smith and his direction comes alive in the two big action sequence at the 40-minute mark and the hour and 25-minute mark (yes, I checked it again). His expositions (which are plenty and dragging) have basic two shots at eye-level, regardless of what’s being said, and oftentimes, he’ll have Will Smith or co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead just staring straight into the camera.
And while Winstead is trying to bring out some level of emotion or character, Clive Owen isn’t even attempting to turn his antagonist character, Clay Verris, into anything other than a generic bad guy. The writers bothered to give him some cheap rationale behind his unconscionable action as an attempt for complexity but it seems like even Own sees through it that he’s not even going to bother. After all, he manages to explain himself in one big monologue before the film ends.
There are attempts at some level of depth or profundity as they try to give Henry Brogan a chance to ponder on mortality and morality as he is facing a younger version of himself but the film talks its way through all of its turning points in boring two-shots or direct-to-the-camera exposition that you know they’re just waiting to get to the action sequences.
I’d rather watch a film that was overly ambitious and failed to meet its mark, or even a film that overestimates its importance. There is still something to enjoy in films that think it's better than it really is. But when even the direction and the acting (except from Winstead, who really deserves much better projects as she is really a great onscreen presence) doesn’t even try to play and have fun with the weak script by playing to its campiness or cheesiness, I really feel like I wasted my time.
I’m not usually this hard on movies, at least I don’t remember, but Ang Lee and Will Smith can do so much better than this.
'Gemini Man' is now showing in Philippine cinemas. Find showtimes for 'Gemini Man' and book your tickets in advance!