Movies & TV

Review: It's the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Going Against His Creaky Older Self in Gemini Man

So much talking, not enough action.
IMAGE IMDB
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The premiere screening for Gemini Man was held at Evia Lifestyle Center, a mall located some 25 odd kilometers south of the heart of Metro Manila. Sitting in the middle of seemingly nowhere as soon as you exit Susana Heights on SLEX, it seemed like an odd choice to hold it. As soon as the film started, however, it made perfect sense. Evia Cinemas’ IMAX with Laser is arguably the most advanced theater in the country, and Ang Lee’s newest action-thriller was shot natively in high frame rate 3D. As distracting is it was stunning, the film was shot at 120fps in 4k resolution, which made watching the film on IMAX like watching on a gigantic HDTV. It was a remarkable experience. 

That said, the film itself is a middling action thriller that fell in love with its concept so much that it often forgets to tell a proper story. The seemingly ageless Will Smith stars as Henry Brogan, a peerless sniper and secret agent extraordinaire who attempts to retire after his latest kill left him feeling like he is off his game and thereby a liability. Cue the tired trope of employers who treat retiring crack snipers as loose ends and we’ve got ourselves an action movie.

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Photo by IMDB.

The gimmick: Who else can you send to kill the best of the best but himself? Lee’s unhealthy fascination with pushing filmmaking’s digital boundaries is reminiscent of George Lucas’ insistence to do the Star Wars prequels in as much CGI as inhumanly possible. The result is a technologically arresting spectacle with a younger Smith as the assassin Junior, shockingly reminding audiences of how old Smith actually is. 

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It’s the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air going up against his creaky older self and everything feels as unsettling as the concept itself. The high frame rate 3D and completely CGI Junior is extremely real, but the uncanny valley is still a problem. On the whole, Gemini Man feels like a video game both in concept and it’s action set pieces, which for some reason feel extremely staged, particularly the final showdown in a derelict town. Brogan and his accidental companion Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who was dragged into the fracas as one would expect an unwitting female agent in an action-thriller, globe-trot unnecessarily from Colombia to Budapest and then back again Stateside. 

Photo by IMDB.
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It really feels like a video game, and not in a good way. The set piece in Budapest in the catacombs, one among many of the city’s curious underground features, is actually visually interesting but lit so brightly and colorfully it feels like a stage of an FPS rather than an action movie. These location changes are also punctuated by strange plane sequences that feel like loading screens because they stitch together the location jumps so unnecessarily. Benedict Wong’s character Baron is Brogan’s trusted pilot and companion and the plane scenes seem like they were out there just to give him something to do (which is pretty much nothing, because they're external shots of planes).  

Wong is severely underused, but he gets a pass for being a plucky sidekick. On the other hand, Gemini Man also casts the wonderful Clive Owen as the melodramatic big bad Clay Varris and also does absolutely nothing with him. Unless you count the excessive dialogue between Varris and Junior, where Varris explains the film’s whole plot and philosophical points of cloning as well as thresh over some daddy issues. One of the most annoying things about high-concept films is when it has to rely on its characters explaining everything rather than entrust the story to cinematography and acting. So much talking, not enough action. 

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Photo by IMDB.

It’s actually a shame because there are some flashes of great action such as the parkour and motorcycle chase in Colombia. The aforementioned catacomb sequence was also interesting, as well a final showdown with a masked assailant with some serious capoeira moves in the third act. But there’s just not enough of it, and Lee seems to stop the action just when the going gets good. The massive showdown at the end gets bogged down by Junior working out his issues with his surrogate dad.  

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The whole film’s concept hinges on the presupposition that everything that we are is dictated by our DNA. Nurture be damned. It’s why Brogan was cloned because his DNA is apparently perfectly suited for murder. Never mind that the film completely upends this whole argument at some point by also saying that Junior can be whatever he wants to be. In which case it made absolutely no sense to clone Brogan in the first place. It’s a confused message from a confused film that tries to mine some existential depth from an interesting concept but ultimately falls flat. 

Photo by IMDB.
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It’s a real shame because the technology is actually promising. Unfortunately, Gemini Man feels like an exercise in the use of the latest technological advancements rather than an actual story. It’s barely passable as an action film and is less interesting than most video game cinematics. Undoubtedly, the best way to enjoy Gemini Man would be to see it at an advanced IMAX theater and take a restroom break in the middle of the film. The automated toilet seats, which lift up when you approach and play "The Rite of Spring" as you do your business, are significantly more entertaining than one of the most underwhelming films of the year.

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Hugo Zacarias Yonzon IV
Zach Yonzon is a cake artist and co-owner of Bunny Baker
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