Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: David Benioff, Darren Lemke, Billy Ray
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Linda Emond, Douglas Hodge
Released: October 10, 2019
Grade: B

Gemini Man

It’s one of the biggest clichés in the action genre.  Villains and/or their loyal henchmen will shoot 100 bullets or throw 100 punches but they’ll never land a fatal hit against their adversary (despite the odds often being in their favour).  They have well-crafted plans but they’re completely incompetent when it comes to execution.  The hero is always too good.  Gemini Man puts a different spin on that tired formula by creating a hero and a villain who are the same person.  Who would win a battle between yourself and yourself?  Confused?  Allow me to explain.

Henry Brogan (Smith) is a 51-year-old who could be described as the best marksman in the world.  His hand-eye co-ordination is demonstrated in the opening scene as, from more than kilometre away, he shoots a man sitting by the window of a fast-moving train.  He could be winning gold medals at the Olympics but instead, he’s been a long-time employee of the U.S. Government’s Defence Intelligence Agency who use Henry to eliminate terrorist threats.

The time has come for Henry to hang up his rifle.  After 72 confirmed kills, he professes that the job is starting to take its toll and that his “soul is hurt”.  I don’t think Henry was expecting a farewell card and Friday night drinks given the secretive nature of his work.  Still, he couldn’t have foreseen the reaction from Agency director Clay Varris (Owen) who has ordered that he be killed as part of a government cover-up.

The person tasked with the assignment is a clone.  Utilising the same technology that created Dolly the Sheep in 1996, geneticists within the Agency have created a 23-year-old replica of Henry and trained him to be an assassin.  They obviously subscribe to the theory of nature over nurture.  They believe that copying Henry’s precise DNA will create a gifted marksman who is his equal and can be used by the Agency for decades to come.

While several big-name filmmakers embrace the past and still shoot using 35mm film, two-time Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) is not afraid to take chances using new equipment.  Almost all movies are shot using 24 frames per second but for Gemini Man, Lee ups that to 120 frames per second.  When you throw in the 3D effects, the 4k resolution, and the work of Brisbane-born cinematographer Dion Beebe (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha), you have a movie that is very different from the norm.  It feels like a computer-game style hybrid between live-action and animation.

The other talking point is the way Lee has created two versions of Will Smith (hope he got two pay cheques).  The visual effects teams have drawn on footage of Smith in his earlier works, largely Bad Boys and Six Degrees of Separation, to create the younger character.  It’s not fully convincing but the film wins points for trying to do something different.  It’ll be interesting to see this technology evolve and improve in the near future.

The major weakness with Gemini Man is the storyline.  This could have been a complex, nuanced story about the dangers of “playing God” but it’s ultimately just a standard action narrative that makes less sense the more you think about it.  There are lengthy chases, lots of carnage, and goofy government officials with unchecked powers and no morals.  The nonchalant nature to a few characters (particularly those played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong) also detracts from the film’s tension and credibility.

It’s no masterpiece but Gemini Man warrants a look.