'Gemini Man' Review: Ang Lee's Ambitious Spy-Fi Misses Its Mark
Saturday, October 12, 2019 13:34 IST
By Shaurya Thakur, Santa Banta News Network
`I think I know why he's as good as you. He is you.`

Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong, Clive Owen, Linda Emond, Theodora Miranne, Douglas Hodge

Director: Ang Lee

Rating: *1/2

Back in 1997, Darren Lenke, the writer behind Shrek Forever After, Turbo, and the Goosebumps movie came up with a fascinating pitch. His concept of `Gemini Man` envisioned a seasoned killer being hunted by a much younger and a much faster version. The 90s was the heyday for action and spy thrillers, and the element of science-fiction thrown into the mix was exciting enough to generate interest from the studios.

The interest was immense from the actors as well. For the longest time, heavyweights such as Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Nicolas Cage were all in contention for the leading part. However, as it happens with many amazing concepts, this one too was shelved. The technology did not catch up with the story, and for some years it wouldn't.

The project passed on from directors Tony Scott to Curtis Hanson, and then to Joe Carnahan. Armed with the knowledge of CGI and technical expertise, it was Ang Lee who finally came on board to helm the project. This is the man who enthralled us with `Life of Pi` and his joining hands with legendary producer Jerry Bruckheimer, nothing but a finished product of epic proportions was expected.

`Gemini Man` is the story of Henry Brogan, (Will Smith) an elite assassin who plans on retiring from a life-long career of killing people. He's been in the game too long, and now just wants to give it up for the luxury of looking into the mirrors. This guy has probably killed several people, but apparently, all it takes to develop a conscience is the presence of a little girl in the vicinity. Sure, Will Smith can convince me of that.

Henry is an important asset for a top-secret organization and an obvious way of showing it is having him tailed and killed. As it turns out, your street cred is no good when you retire. He goes on the run, not alone as he is accompanied by Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Yes, even Will Smith knows that her last name is not worth the effort so he calls her toast (Get it? Because while tailing Henry her cover gets blown and she gets burned? )

Meanwhile, Clay Varris ( Clive Owen) is going on spouting the word `Gemini` like he plans to resurrect the dead, which is ironical because Gemini is his special co-op unit which will hunt down Henry. But where's the catch? This `Gemini` has to be as good as Henry, right? Wait. It is Henry! Much younger, faster, and also clean-shaven. Bet you didn't see that one coming did you? Henry is now in a race against time and himself, along with Mary and Baron (Benedict Wong). It's basically a road trip movie, with murderous lust and doppelgangers sprinkled not-so-subtly.

During its decade long refinement, the movie has been in the hands of almost a dozen writers, of which David Benioff, (Yes, from Game of Thrones) Darren Lemke and Billy Ray have been accredited as the writers on the movie. Several rewrites, while not always a deterrent to a movie's success, is always a red flag. Here too it is nothing but abysmal with the generic premise and some agonizing dialogue. There's also a forceful effort to insert a senseless romance between the two leads, which will make your eyes widen in disbelief as it does not make these characters worth rooting for. But looking on a brighter side, here you can *genuinely* blame Benioff for the fiasco this screenplay is.

Ang Lee is a director who in spite his flair for storytelling will perhaps be remembered for his visual splendor. Lee, in all his earnest effort, is someone who wants to create bigger and better sensual experiences for the movie going audience. The `high frame rate` for him is not an affectation, but a lifelong pursuit of cinematic truth. The biggest criticism of his last movie `Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk` was an intense preoccupation with the technology and not enough emphasis on the story. Lee's use of tech is much more tuned here, but the faults with storytelling still return to haunt him.

The movie opens with the title card appearing against a plain, white background. Conveniently, it also serves as the metaphor for the entire movie. The movie operates on the conceit of `people being their own worst enemies` and `daddy issues` but makes no effort in exploring its truest depths. There are also sequences where Lee runs wild with high frame rate, which could have looked pretty awesome if all (including mine) cinema halls and multiplexes could show the movie as it was intended. The action sequences have the intensity of the early 2000s first-person shooter games, highly distracting you from what's going on. The writing shows no heart and instead unabashedly goes for emotional manipulation and nauseating clap-trap about `facing fears and overcoming doubts.`

On a positive note, the de-aging aspect looks decent. Will Smith is good, not great. Mary Elizabeth although just an on-road companion for Will Smith's character is a cheerful and lively presence in the movie. Not only she shares wonderful chemistry with Will Smith and tries her best to elevate the material assigned to her, but she also does action sequences as well as her male counterpart.

Here's hoping that Ang Lee returns to his `Brokeback Mountain` days. That Ang Lee needs to make a triumphant return.
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