De-aging an actor is something of a commonplace bit of tech work in today’s moviemaking culture, but it was the stuff dreams are made of as late as the early 2000’s, and in 1992, it was the very thing that shelved Darren Lemke’s script for a film titled Gemini Man. Directed by master filmmaker Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Sense and Sensibility) (and in no way related to a 70’s TV show of the same name,) the story centers around hitman-cum-retiree Henry Brogan (Will Smith, Men In Black), who is put on the run when his former contractors order him killed and send a threat his way — one he knows all too well, for the threat is his clone.
Let’s not beat about the bush — while it is set in the present day, this movie feels dated, with a lot of talking and unexplained plot, but in the best possible sense — it oozes all the elements of a classic 1990’s action thriller; think Face/Off meets GoldenEye. I love movies that echo a different time, whether literally, like The Artist or in spirit, like The Shape of Water. This plays into the movie’s innate history — grounded since its purchase, the film underwent many attempts at manifestation, under the batons of directors Tony Scott, Curtis Hanson and Joe Carnahan, to say nothing of a litany of stars attached, from Harrison Ford to Clint Eastwood, and each time, technology had not advanced to the point where an actor could be convincingly de-aged.
Fortunately, since then, the industry has been treated to multiple textbook examples of great de-aging in films, and Gemini Man is no exception, but an added twist comes into play from director Lee — having filmed his last movie, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in an unheard-of 120 frames per second 3D, he did just that again with this film. While its wide exhibition is largely shows at 60fps, it still works, and it works much better than Peter Jackson’s 48fps attempt with The Hobbit, as the high frame rate sells realism easier with a contemporary action film than it did with medieval fantasy. This is a cinematographic eye candy binge, going above a mere tech demo and giving the viewer plenty of bang for their bucks. For that matter, it isn’t just tech that sells the film; it has terrifically choreographed fight scenes, lush locales and camerawork that never makes for a sickening 3D experience, and all this from the man with a CV that goes from Sense & Sensibility to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Bravo.
Those fearing another After Earth-style stoic cringefest from Will Smith need not worry; he knows that the role of Henry Brogan isn’t an Oscar worthy performance, but he doesn’t ham it up as either version of his character, which is always appreciated by this critic. Costars feature Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard) as a defense operative colleague of Henry’s and Benedict Wong (Avengers: Endgame) as a resourceful pilot, but I largely feel they are unnecessary, and this could have easily been a “running man” style of film, with Henry left to fend for himself against himself. The villain of the film is played by Clive Owen (The International), who isn’t given much to work with, but he’s quite capable of being bad, and in a very different way which will be made apparent when you see the film.
Gemini Man is a fun movie that, while not anything revolutionary in its script, is just that in its visual affects and brilliant use of high frame rate photography. It begs to be seen in high frame rate 3D (which is now wisely being marketed as “3D+”), and again, while it feels like a movie of yesteryear, it most certainly doesn’t play that way.